Heavier oil from Gulf spill washes up in Florida
By Michael Peltier
PENSACOLA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Heavier concentrations of oil from the gushing Gulf of Mexico leak have begun sloshing up on Florida seashores as the state ramps up its effort to keep its coastline clean.
Tar balls and crude oil "mousse" entered into Perdido Bay in northwest Florida on the border with Alabama late on Wednesday, prompting state and local officials to step up skimming operations before the gooey mess taints delicate spawning areas.
A variety of fish spawn there, including red snapper, grouper and speckled trout, and Alabama's primary oyster beds are in the same area as well.
Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said the heavier concentrations -- in an area just west of the Florida tourist haven of Pensacola -- should continue over the next several days.
"We're going to continue to see this type of impact for the next 72 hours," Sole said on Thursday. "We really need to keep our attention on this."
The consistency of the oil, a cross between tar balls and fresh crude, has made collection difficult. Oil absorbing booms have been ineffective and skimmers have had difficulty picking up the toxic debris in the area of an inland waterway shared by both Florida and Alabama, according to local officials.
Spill clean-up and containment efforts and have been hampered by breakdowns in communication between local monitors, state officials and representatives of the Unified Command Center -- grouping BP Plc and Transocean Ltd with federal agencies -- in Mobile, Alabama, officials said.
"We need to figure out how to be proactive and not just react to reports," Sole said.
Debris from the spill reached the Panhandle region of northwest Florida late last week. But until Wednesday it had been limited to relatively small tar balls, washing up on some white-sand beaches.
State meteorologist Amy Godsey said a prevailing Gulf of Mexico current known as "The Loop" has begun to reattach itself to a more northerly "Loop Ring" that has kept the bulk of spilled oil from working its way into the Straits of Florida.
Oceanographers say it now seems likely that oil from the spill will enter the Straits. They say if that occurs, oil would be carried by the Gulf Stream along Florida's heavily populated Atlantic coast and then further up the U.S. eastern seaboard.