For the second consecutive year, volunteers from CITGO Petroleum Corporation, Houston Audubon Society and the Galveston community converged on the Smith Oaks Sanctuary in High Island to plant trees and remove invasive vegetation. The Houston Audubon Society-owned sanctuary, which protects 177 acres of field, woods, wetlands and ponds, is still recovering from damage inflicted over years of hurricane seasons and needs help in order to protect the many species of migratory birds who call it home.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, High Island is frequently subject to damaging storms. Most recently, Hurricane Ike in 2008 wrought havoc throughout the community, decimating coastal habitats with massive storm surge. Years later, these habitats are still recovering, making volunteer efforts continually necessary to help remove non-native vegetation and restore the ecosystems on which local plants and animals rely. This year, volunteers planted approximately 300 trees native to the area, including live oak, hackberry (sugarberry), yaupon holly, bald cypress, elm and redbud trees. Additionally, volunteers cleared trails and took part in other property beautification activities.
"Hurricanes have had a significant impact on coastal habitats here in southeastern Texas, damaging vegetation and taking food sources away from birds," said Richard Gibbons, conservation director of Houston Audubon Society. "Volunteer efforts are critical to restoring this sanctuary and others. We greatly appreciate the work CITGO has done and continues to do to help reestablish the delicate balance that wildlife needs to survive and thrive here."
CITGO and Houston Audubon have been partnering on environmental conservation and restoration efforts since May 2013. In addition to the plantings held at the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, CITGO and Houston Audubon employees and volunteers have held several workdays at the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary in West Houston, most recently to commemorate Earth Day in April of 2015.
"With two refineries on the Gulf Coast, CITGO has witnessed first-hand the damaging effects of the many hurricanes that have plagued the region over the years," said CITGO President and CEO Nelson Martinez. "It is important for leaders in the region to join together to not only rebuild our local communities, but to protect the coastal environment that surrounds us, as well."
Environmental conservation and restoration has long been a pillar of CITGO efforts to help the wider Gulf Coast community. Since 2014, when CITGO launched its Caring for Our Coast environmental restoration campaign, CITGO has committed resources for more than 40 projects that have involved the participation of more than 3,600 volunteers, including many CITGO employees, families and friends. Combined, volunteers have planted more than 200,000 plugs of dune grass, trees and bushes and collected 2,800 pounds of trash in support of restoring and protecting more than 400 acres of coastal habitats in the Gulf.