I have my own selfish reasons for being concerned about the oil spill making its way through the Gulf of Mexico. Several weeks ago my husband and I planned to spend a week at Indian Rocks, a beach on the west coast of Florida near Tampa Bay. We chose the second week of May figuring lodging prices would have dropped by then and the weather would be hot. Also, we go north for four months and will be heading back the end of May. Because of the uncertainty of the path of the oil spill we have not made our reservations yet.
Our main residence is in Pasco County, one of the nineteen counties that Governor Crist added to the Florida state of emergency list on Monday. Every day the newspapers are full of stories of local concerns of the oil spill. Although the oil spill has not reached the Tampa Bay area yet, local fishermen are concerned that the perception by the public will be that all Gulf fish are tainted. Some fishing is already shut down in Mississippi, Louisiana and northern Florida.
Tarpon Springs, the sponge capital of the U.S., depends on fishing and sponge diving for its economic survival. George Billirus, a Tarpon Springs sponge merchant, was quoted in a Tampa Tribune article by Ray Reeves, “If the sponge industry is affected (by the oil spill) what happens to Tarpon Springs as a tourist attraction?”
Tampa Bay shallow-water businesses are also concerned about the oil spill. If the spill reaches Tampa Bay it would destroy the environment of the red fish, trout, mackerel, tarpon and other fish. These are the fish that shallow-water charter boats depend upon for their living.
Currently the threat to Florida west coast beaches is low. Hotels in St. Pete Beach and Clearwater are getting calls from tourists asking if the beaches are affected by the oil spill. Hotel personnel are hoping that tourists don’t cancel their reservations. The fear is that the perception will be that the whole coast is under oil. According to Tampa Tribune columnist Rob Shaw, Keith Overton, remembering the summer of 2004 when hurricanes made their way across Florida, said, “Many parts of the state were not affected, but everyone thought the whole state was underwater.” Overton is the senior vice-president and CEO of TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach.
Whether or not the spill reaches the west coast beaches is in the hands of Mother Nature now. The oil’s path depends on the wind and the Loop Current, a river of water in the Gulf. It is difficult to predict what route the oil slick will take but it is almost certain that it will get pulled into the Loop Current. The Loop Current gets no closer than 100 miles of the west coast of Florida so it probably won’t be a threat. There will be more of a threat to the east coast of Florida and the U.S. as the current flows into the Gulf Stream and continues along the east coast of the U.S. (see Associated Content contributor, Angie Mohr’s article
Environmental agencies are gearing up just in case the oil spill does reach the west coast beaches. Vounteers and donations are being sought by the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Save Our Seabirds Inc. and Mote Marine Laboratory. If our beach plans are spoiled by the oil spill, we are going to look into volunteering.
Sources: Tampa Tribune