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How Is the Gulf Oil Spill Affecting Florida’s Beaches?

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Gulf Oil Spill
© Getty Images/Joe Raedle, Photographer
Updated July 06, 2010

Just a few weeks ago, life in Florida was good. Temperatures in the Sunshine State were heating up and so was the economy. There was little evidence left of the devastating hurricanes of 2004-05 and with the nation’s overall economy seemingly in recovery, tourists were putting aside their fears, opening up their wallets and again booking vacations along Florida’s coastline. Then it happened. On April 20, the Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and allowing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The incident has become the biggest man-made environmental disaster in this nation’s history.

What Does This Disaster Mean for Florida?

Initially, there was optimism that the runaway well could be capped within a few days and the affects of the crude on Florida’s beaches would be minimal. However, as days have melted into weeks and the oil has continued to spew into the Gulf at an unrelenting pace, a chilling reality has emerged — at least some of Florida’s beaches will be impacted, likely for years.

Thus far, only a few Panhandle beaches have been impacted by small amounts of oil in the form of tar balls, oil sheen, tar mats or an oil/water mixture referred to as oil or tar “mousse” that can be brown, rust or orange in color. Because of winds, currents and other factors, experts cannot determine at this time what beaches may be affected in the future, nor can they predict when additional beaches may become contaminated.

If you’d like to explore more information on how oil spills damage the environment, you may want to read these excellent articles from About.com's Guide to Environmental Issues, Larry West:

The effects of the Gulf oil spill is definitely impacting Florida in ways that go beyond the oil you can see on some of its beaches. Florida's economy is suffering. Even while the oil was many miles off Florida’s coastline, the state’s fishermen felt the impact of the Gulf fishing ban. Tourism is down, so those that indirectly make their living off of the Gulf — hotel and restaurant owners and workers — have also been impacted.

What Florida Beaches Have Been Directly Impacted

Tar balls and oil sheen and an oily goo referred to as “oil mousse” have washed up on some of the most beautiful stretches of white sand beaches in the Florida Panhandle. Affected areas include:

As of this date, beaches in the eastern Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s West Coast have not been affected by the oil, nor have any Florida East Coast beaches. Despite earlier reports, the Florida Keys also have not been affected by the oil.

What Can I Do?

While many people are angry and frustrated and feel helpless, there are things you can do to help. First of all, outside of Florida’s Panhandle, oil has not washed up on any other Florida beaches, so plan your vacation to Florida. Don’t be afraid to book your hotel and visit Florida’s beaches. There are many hotels with no-oil guarantees in place from Clearwater Beach to Key West. The no-oil guarantees vary from a full refund if oil washes onto the beach during your stay, to a refund of remaining vacation days if the beach is closed due to oil during your stay. Be sure to check with your hotel’s no-oil policy at the time of booking.

Volunteer. Volunteers are mobilizing all over Florida for a variety of jobs. If you would like to volunteer, information is available at VolunteerFloridaDisaster.org.

Join an organization. In the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, one would expect protests like last weekend’s Hands Across the Sands to gain attention. What is interesting is that the Hands Across the Sandorganization was founded by Floridian, Dave Rauschkolb, in February — two months before the Deep Water Horizon disaster.— to organize against the expansion of offshore drilling. Of course, it gained momentum after the Gulf oil rig accident. The organization’s efforts culminated last Saturday (June 26, 2010) with tens of thousands of people joining hands across the sands of the nation, perhaps hundreds of thousands worldwide — a human barrier against offshore oil drilling.

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