KEY WEST, FL – After a few days of work and research discussions here, it’s time for a couple days of true vacation. The Family Pharmboy chose to leave the 101°F of North Carolina for the cooler and breezier climes of the gorgeous and peaceful Florida Keys. We’re here to right a wrong and to also dump this year’s summer vacation cash with some of our old and new friends who are currently being adversely affected by the terrible news on the northern Gulf Coast.
However. There is no BP Deepwater Horizon oil in the Florida Keys.
Repeat: There is no BP Deepwater Horizon oil in the Florida Keys.
As reported in stories by Anne-Margaret Swary and Timothy O’Hara from yesterday’s issue of the Key West Citizen, Monroe County lodging and water-related recreation businesses are already taking a serious hit with cancellations and, more significantly, a dramatic drop-off in advance bookings.
The Keys still get a lot of tourist business this time of year between 4th of July celebrations and the July 28-29 lobster mini-season. And for an economy so richly based on tourism, something one can say for much of Florida, any bad news can have a sizable impact on all businesses directly and indirectly associated with out-of-state and international visitors.
The article note that the real problems for the Keys came from a widely-distributed May 17th report showing tarballs washing up at Ft. Zachary Taylor and Smathers Beach on Key West. Your own blogger even featured this story here.
Not as widely-reported, however, was the US Coast Guard announcement that the tarballs were NOT from the BP Deepwater Horizon hole-in-the-Earth.
Your repentant blogger failed to report this news. Hence, this post is my penance.
Another cognitive disadvantage the Keys face is that many people don’t quite realize how huge Florida is. Take note of the scale in the lower left of the following state map.
Escambia County, home of Pensacola in the Panhandle, where sheets of oil washed up today, is a 535-mile drive to Ft. Myers and an 800-mile drive to Key West. Yes, these towns line upper right quadrant of the Gulf’s circumference, but the oil plume is relatively far west right now.
From yesterday’s report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (PDF):
According to the NOAA oil plume model, the oil plume is 5 miles from Pensacola, 38 miles from Mexico Beach and 244 miles from St. Petersburg. NOAA near shore trajectories are showing direct onshore impacts to the Walton-Bay County line through Friday, with the uncertainty line extending as far as Panama City Beach.
Indeed, this is bad news for some of the most beautiful, white-sand beaches in North America and the fragile ecosystem associated with the northern Gulf Coast. And yes, the massive oil plume stands to have far-off effects even if oil itself fails to make landfall.
However, things are looking surprisingly good for the Florida Keys.
The Citizen reports that not only has the plume not threatened Key West, but it’s also not yet viewed as a threat to the Dry Tortugas National Park, islands a group of seven islands and reefs that are another 70 miles to the west.
Moreover, an article two days ago from Cammy Clark of the Miami Herald noted that the closest the oil is to Key West is about 385 miles. She also cites expert opinion and models now showing the plume is unlikely to directly hit the Keys.
Still, perception is everything in these cases.
For example, I applauded the responsiveness of the Florida Keys Community College in preparing locals with certification courses (here and here) to safely work on any efforts should the oil make landfall here. These efforts, also viewed positively by public health blogger and scientist, Liz Borkowski of The Pump Handle, are not seen as beneficial according to one Conch who filed this note in the Citizen’s Voice section of yesterday’s paper:
“The Florida Keys Community College should be ashamed for fanning the flames of panic in an attempt to profit off people’s concerns. We will not receive the waves of oil they would have you believe. They are not preparing the Keys; they are spreading fear and taking your money.”
I strongly disagree with this commenter because being agile and prepared for new educational niches – even in tragedies – is what community colleges do best. The commenter may themselves wish to take one or two of these courses.
But I do think that a lot of folks are just plain angry and feeling helpless, needing to place blame somewhere.
I hate to end on such a downer but my stomach is in a knot over the continued impact of the BP gusher. Being here and seeing my my friends who are so dependent on tourist business and others dependent on fishing and shrimping makes me realize the practical impact this debacle will have on individuals. But reef snorkeling yesterday with PharmGirl and the PharmKid reminds me of what incredible beauty and biology we have to lose.
Of course, I’m not a typical ignorant American – I recognize that the petroleum products it took to get us here are part of the demand that drives the need for offshore oil drilling. I’m walking a lot more than on previous trips here.
So, if you’re going to use petroleum anyway this summer, consider visiting the Florida Keys or any of the large number of Gulf destinations not yet affected by the oil plume. It won’t change the inevitable but it might allow some good people to prepare financially for what may come next.