Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gulf Oil Expected in South Florida

Gulf Oil Expected to Impact South Florida Beaches and Coastal Ecosystems

Miami, FL / May, 18, 2010 / Many thanks to U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen for organizing an informative (and bipartisan) roundtable on the Gulf oil spill at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) on Virginia Key, FL, yesterday.

Congresswoman Ros Lehtinen’s district includes the Florida Keys, Key Biscayne, and portions of Miami, all potentially threatened with impacts from the Gulf oil spill.

Ros-Lehtinen is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the current cap on oil companies' liability for federal economic damages in the event of a spill (the current cap is $75 million).

Attendees to Monday’s event included representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Biscayne National Park, Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management, BP, Senator Nelson’s office, local tourism interests, commercial fishing interests, many marine scientists from RSMAS, concerned citizens, and others. Environmental groups present included Environment Florida, Pew Environment Group (end overfishing campaign), Blue Climate Solutions, and Urban Paradise Guild.

A few notes from the event -

• South Florida is likely to experience oil in the form of weathered tar balls. Amounts are unknown, could be within a week. Scientists reported that it is only a matter of time before oil gets into the Loop Current and heads to South Florida.

• Significant concern was expressed over potential impacts to coastal ecosystems. Coral reefs, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows were specifically identified as ecosystems of concern by a number of attendees. Apparently, if oil covers a mangrove’s root system the plant will die.

• Concern was expressed over potential economic impacts of tar balls reaching the beaches of the Florida Keys, Miami Beach, and Key Biscayne ~ tar ball beaches, anyone?

• Concern was raised over oil dispersant use and its potential impacts to the pelagic environment.

• One question raised was “what can we do to prevent impacts?” The response was disappointing ~ not much can be done to interdict oil tar balls from reaching shore lines, especially if they are floating throughout the water column. “The real answer is, we don't know exactly what the concentration of tar balls will look like or how they'll be distributed or if we'll see them at all” responded Ray Jakubczak of BP.

• Many government agencies reported that they are taking precautions, including the sampling of current environmental conditions at the beaches and in the water, and “are prepared” for potential impacts. We hope so…

A palpable anxiety exists here in South Florida over what we may soon experience. We are in a “wait and see what happens” mode...

Gulf spill could affect So. Fla. (WSVN 7):

Oil Will Be in the Loop: Scientists (NBC Miami):

Gulf Oil Is in the Loop Current, Experts Say (National Geographic):

Heavy Sludge Oozes into Marshes of Louisiana (CBS) (first reported impacts to 'blue carbon' ecosystems):

Latest satellite image analysis from Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, Inc. (May 18, 2010). Image available at: http://www.roffs.com/deepwaterhorizon.html