“Oil hits Florida beaches.”
“Oil covers Florida beaches.”
Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, environmental health program manager and senior scientist for Mote Marine Laboratory, says those are the types of headlines that are both common and misleading. Speaking to approximately 70 Bird Key residents Friday, July 16, at Bird Key Yacht Club, Kirkpatrick showed a slide of an oil-soaked beach, followed by a picture of a local beach with white sand, blue water and not a drop of oil.
“We all know this is what our beaches look like,” she said of the latter photo.
Kirkpatrick told attendees that for the first time in the nearly three months since oil began spilling into the Gulf from the BP Deepwater Horizon, she had good news: The day before, BP announced that the rig had been capped. During the first month of the spill, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) put the entire Florida peninsula on its trajectory map of areas where oil was likely to spread.
“If I can give you, again, a little bit of hope, now the Florida peninsula isn’t even on the map,” she said.
Mote has been in pre-oil stages of planning since days after the leak began. Its oil plan, Kirkpatrick said, is similar to a hurricane plan in that it hopes it doesn’t have to be implemented. Mote also, if necessary, has a post-oil plan in place that would involve ecosystem assessment.
According to Kirkpatrick, Mote has deployed autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to monitor for oil near Venice Beach and the Florida Keys. Mote’s chemistry labs are conducting numerous sampling efforts. And Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital and Dolphin and Whale Hospital have not accepted patients from areas affected by the oil spill so that space will be available for local animals if oil comes to the region. However, Mote has pledged to increase capacity in its hospitals if necessary.
Mote has also added an oil-spill impact category to the Beach Conditions Report on its website and could soon add accompanying photographs.
Sarasota City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell said at the meeting that she had been receiving e-mails from her constituents who were concerned about how a hurricane could change the dynamics of the oil spill.
Kirkpatrick said that because Northern Hemisphere hurricane winds move in a counterclockwise direction, the most damaging storm for the area in terms of oil would be a slow-moving hurricane that would linger in Jacksonville.
One attendee asked about the effectiveness of animal rescue after an oil spill and cited low survival rates from past spills.
But Mote President Dr. Kumar Mahadevan said that because environmental disasters such as the current oil spill rarely occur, the animals rescued provide valuable information to researchers.
“Every bit of knowledge that we learn is going to help us next time, and that is important,” he said. “By saving these animals, you’re building that database.”
He also said that for vulnerable populations, such as sea turtles, every animal that is saved is especially important.
“Even if you lose a few, it could crash the population,” he said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].