By Robert Young, Coastal Geologist, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.
On June 21 I flew the Gulf Coast from Perdido Pass in Alabama to Panama City, FL. Oil was clearly visible in large amounts just offshore of the Pass and of Orange Beach, AL. Tar Balls have been washing up on beaches along the Florida coast east to Bay County. Over the past two days, the oil that was offshore of Alabama has begun to wash ashore on Pensacola Beach, Fl. It is like watching a slow car wreck. As I flew the coast, I saw many varieties of preparations for the incoming oil. Booms deployed along, beaches, wetlands and inlets. Booms lying curled up on beaches waiting. Clean-up crews working the beach. Clean-up crews sitting under canopies watching for trouble. Some localities have pushed up sand ridged on the lower part of the beach, hoping to keep the oil away from the upper beach and make it easier to clean. Many counties have bull dozed sand berms across small tidal passes that connect the Gulf to the back-barrier lakes of the Florida Panhandle. I’m not sure what is worse, the waiting for the oil or dealing with its impact.
Yet, our desire to spend some of our summer at the beach is strong. I saw far more people in the water than I saw oil. The hotel I stayed in that night, in Destin, FL, was sold out. I think that the oil will literally have to chase people out of the water. Meanwhile, in Louisiana oil is definitely covering beaches and wetlands. In order to attempt to halt some of the disastrous impact of the spill, Jefferson Parish Louisiana has submitted a permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers to close several inlets (passes) with rock dikes. Once again, we have a proposal to deal with the oil that involves large-scale coastal engineering with little thought to the potential impacts of this drastic project. Many groups in Louisiana are opposed, and many local scientists are throwing up their arms in exasperation.