Jun 10, 2010 8:00:12 PM
Oil spill update
We’re keeping an eye on the oil spill in the Gulf Coast and gauging how it will impact summer travel plans. I’ll be giving on-the-ground reports from Pensacola next week. Meanwhile, here’s a few updates:
Oil leaked from the April 20 BP explosion has washed ashore, at varying levels, in four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The worst hit is Louisiana, where Grand Isle has closed all its beaches.
The only affected parts of Florida are the western third of its panhandle (from the state line to Pensacola and east to Navarre), where occasional oil tar balls have washed ashore since last Friday. No beaches are closed, though there’s an advisory against going into the water at a six-mile stretch at Perdido Key, between Pensacola and the Alabama state line.
In Pensacola, dolphin-watching cruises in Pensacola are still going daily (though at diminished rate due to some cancellations) and vacationers continue to hit the beaches — though sometimes in the company of contracted clean-up crews in yellow vests. Pensacola officials said that a University of Western Florida test of oil content in the waters this week turned up negative.
Most locals expect more bad news is coming. One Pensacola Bay visitors center rep told me she’s going to the beach Friday ‘to get some beach time in while we still can.’
Peninsular Florida (including Tampa, Naples and the Keys), meanwhile, remains untouched by oil. The waters are apparently so clear that, one Coast Guard rep told me, 13 oil-affected birds from Louisiana were recently reintroduced to the wild at Egmont Key National Wildlife Reserve, near St Petersburg, ‘because it’s so pristine.’
What will happen and when remains a guess, though a recent AccuWeather.com report dared to chart percentages of likelihood of oil contact in and out of the Gulf. According to the story, Tampa has a 25% chance of seeing oil in the next month, Key West a 15% chance — both closer to 50% likely by the end of summer.
If you have reservations, note that many hotels are loosening reservation policies to ease the burden on travelers.
Volunteering on part of a trip is a bit tricky. The Deepwater Horizon Response has a volunteer hot-line, but most efforts are merely to register potential volunteers at a local level to be ready, as one volunteer told me, ‘on a when and if’ basis. Only contracted workers with specific training can work in ‘hot areas’ (ie areas affected by oil) or to handle wildlife. For Florida (which could nearly $11 billion due to the spill, per a BusinessWeek story), check VolunteerFloridaDisaster.org for county listings of potential opportunities if you’re in the area.
Travelers can also help by reporting any sightings, as (a different) Robert Reid did near Pensacola last week.