There is nothing funny about the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Every day, there seems to be worse and worse news about BP (Beyond Patience, Bastard Polluters, Beached Petroleum, Basically Pathetic) and their Deepwater Horizon oil gusher. As I type the words for this column, the “top kill” operation of pumping mud into the broken well goes on, hopefully with a successful outcome. Unfortunately, news sources are already calling this the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Louisiana is getting virtually no help from the BP or the government. Governor Bobby Jindal has been beside himself in trying to protect his beaches and estuaries while waiting for an Army Corps permit. Were I in his shoes, I’m not sure I’d have waited for the Feds to allow me to protect my shores.

The entire northern Gulf fishing industry faces extinction. The destructive impact on wildlife is just beginning, and will only get worse with each passing day. Beach towns from Louisiana to the Panhandle, instead of getting ready for the summer season, are looking at cancelled bookings and an economic as well as an ecological disaster. And still, over a month after the spill began, BP’s response has been nothing short of woefully inadequate. Toxic dispersants and virtually no cleanup efforts at all are making things even worse. You know it’s bad when a Shell Oil executive comes on TV and tells the news audience how bad BP is screwing things up.

Here in the Keys, we seem to be still facing a much brighter future than that which befalls the northern Gulf states. There is, however, a great deal of uncertainty as to what effects (if any) the Keys will feel. What we don’t need, however, are fear mongering and rumor reporting in the media.

A local daily newspaper reported on a recent report of an oil “plume” near Key West, one of several false reports the Coast Guard has received. Most of these, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have turned out to be “cloud shadows, algae blooms, and sargassum weed lines”. This particular plume was spotted by a charter captain and estimated to be over 80 feet long and ten feet below the surface – a rather large plume. Yet when a bucket was lowered to collect a sample, “the substance dispersed.” Let me get this straight: an 80’ plume of oil survives a 500-mile trip through the Gulf of Mexico, travels in a direction counter to where the currents are taking everything else, and manages to get to Key West… but when it encounters a bucket lowered from a fishing boat, it vanishes. Come on.

Just as newsworthy (not!) was the large color photo of the tiny tarball from Big Pine Key that landed on the front page of a local semi-weekly news outlet. It was the size of a wad of used chewing gum with some sand and other detritus attached to it. It was as ecologically significant as a solitary fart in the atmosphere, yet there it was on the front page. Funny, isn’t it, that none of the tarballs found in the Keys have proven to come from the BP gusher?

I grew up in Florida back in the 1960s and 70s. I’ve lived in the Keys since 1984. I used to frequent beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf shores as well as those of our own islands. I can tell you from decades of personal experience that tarballs are not a new phenomenon for Florida beaches. All it takes is for a tanker or large vessel to flush its bilge, and tarballs are beach-bound. We might very well get tarballs from the BP gusher at some point. IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD.


The real and verifiable good news for the Keys is that the Loop Current has kept shifting farther west. NOAA charts and forecast maps keep the limited amount of oil/sheen/tarballs that might have ventured near the Loop Current W-A-A-A-Y-Y west of the Keys. Nowhere near us. But the fear mongers won’t be happy until everyone here is petrified with dread over our certain demise.

I, for one, will not stick my head in the sand and be paralyzed into inaction. Memorial Day weekend is here, and we do have a summer season ahead of us. Let’s continue to monitor the situation and deal with whatever may (or may not) happen here. Let’s be willing, as many Keys people are, to help to our Gulf neighbors. And let’s deal with reality as opposed to irrational panic.

It’s either that, or will the last person to leave the Keys please turn off the water?

MJ.US: “As of Sunday, May 28th, BP has announced that Top Kill has failed to stem the oil discharge in the Gulf.”  MT

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