Letter: Monitoring effect of oil spill on beaches

I’m sure we all agree that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is not only an environmental disaster, it also has the potential to cause severe damage to the Florida tourism industry.

VISIT FLORIDA is working hard to minimize impacts on a statewide basis.

But I thought it would be worthwhile to look into the likelihood that the oil could come ashore here. We’re not scientists, but we know people who are indeed experts. Dr. Maia McGuire of the University of Florida is the Sea Grant Extension Agent for our part of Florida. She is in direct contact with prominent oceanographers, marine biologists and fisheries experts throughout the State University System.

This is what we learned when we asked Dr. McGuire about how the oil could find its way to our beaches:

First, the oil would have to enter the Loop Current in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico – right now, it is moving away from the Loop Current. If it did reach that current, it would then have to travel nearly 500 miles down the west coast of Florida and enter the Florida Strait that flows between The Keys and Cuba. Next, the oil would have to somehow make it to the Gulf Stream and be carried up the eastern coast of Florida for nearly another 500 miles before it would be parallel to our beaches. At that point, the Gulf Stream would be 40 miles from our beaches and carrying the oil away from our coast. It would take strong and consistent winds blowing onshore for several days to move any of the remaining oil out of the rapidly moving Gulf Stream and force it on to our beaches.

How long would it take for this chain of events to occur, if ever? If efforts to stop the oil leak fail and all of the complicated movements described previously do occur, it would take many weeks and more likely many months for the oil to travel anywhere near us. Impossible? No. Highly unlikely? Yes.

To help keep our partners and potential visitors informed about the status of our beaches, we have created a new website. I would encourage you to visit it and find out what we are doing – and take a look at the page devoted to the oil spill situation. This site will be updated on a regular basis – we’ll even have information specific to each of our beaches. You can easily access it by going to our homepage and clicking on the Beach Report icon in the upper right corner – or simply click here.

Best Regards,

Richard Goldman
VCB Executive Director

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