"Most people are not happy and disappointed, but I think they realize it's not Carnival's fault," Parker said. "It's an oil spill."
The amount of oil spilled was much less than such major U.S. disasters as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, which dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound, and the Deepwater Horizon spill, which resulted in 100 million gallons of oil entering the Gulf of Mexico four years ago.
But it still required a major cleanup effort by state authorities who laid down miles of tube-like barriers and deployed yellow-uniformed workers to pick up black, quarter-sized "tar balls" washing up on shore. Wildlife protection workers picked up birds stained in oil for cleaning. Officials said nearly 20 birds injured by oil had been found and were being treated. An additional 10 birds have died from oil exposure.
The Coast Guard hopes to get as much oil out of the water as possible within the next 24 hours, deploying skimmers in some areas, as winds are expected to pick up Wednesday and move remaining oil toward the Texas shoreline.
Officials believe most of the oil is drifting out into the Gulf of Mexico and heading southwest, which should limit the impact on bird habitats around Galveston Bay as well as beaches and fisheries important to tourists. Workers ready to clean up oil residue are stationed in counties south of Galveston, officials said.
Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time and place. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area.
One of those habitats is the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary on more than 1,100 acres on Bolivar Peninsula. Between 50 and 70 species of birds can be found at the sanctuary.
Vale said the spill had "very bad timing" as the spring bird migration is starting. But she was encouraged that she and Deichmann weren't finding completely oil-covered birds.
"That's hopeful thinking," she said.
Nomaan Merchant reported from Dallas.