October 31, 2014

Gulf Oil Spill

How the Black Tide Could Affect Florida

The Gulf Oil Spill is biggest in U.S. history.

Charlotte Crane | 7/1/2010

Workers clean up tar along Pensacola Beach [Photo:Michael Spooneybarger/AP]

• Most at Risk

» Northwest Florida. The tourism industry in just the five coastal counties closest to the spill generates some 55,000 jobs. Commercial fishing and aquaculture are at risk as well: Ninety percent of oysters in Florida come from the Apalachicola estuary system. Oil contaminant could suffocate the oysters, and persistent hydrocarbons could make oysters inedible for some time. Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches 160 miles from northwest Florida to Mississippi, is the largest seashore among national parks and is home to 14 threatened or endangered species.

Key West shrimp boats
Key West shrimp boats at dock
» The Keys. The islands’ tourism economy, valued at $2.2 billion in 2008, represents 60% of the economy and 57% of employment. Commercial fishing ranks alongside tourism as a primary Keys industry, producing some 20 million pounds of seafood and marine products per year. Commercial fishermen operate more than 300 boats, and it’s estimated the catch includes more than 80% of the spiny lobsters harvested in Florida. One of the planet’s largest coral reef systems stretches from the Dry Tortugas National Park in Monroe County to Biscayne Bay east of Miami.

• Impact So Far

» Even before oil sheen and tarballs began washing ashore in northwest Florida, fear of the spill’s effects had already cut into this year’s summer tourism season. Cancellations began coming in by early June, and phone calls for reservations lessened. By early June, the spill had closed more than a third of fishing areas, impacting both commercial and sport fishing interests, including deepwater fishing tournaments. In the Keys, meanwhile, tourism executives reported cancellation of 25% to 40% of bookings in the first month after the spill. Half of all summer visitors come for fishing, diving or boating. Because of the spill, the state opened the oyster harvest season early. Business activity associated with monitoring and cleanup— travel and accommodations, for example — was notable in some places but vastly outweighed by the impact of the spill on usual commerce.

Oil soiled sand in hand

Tags: Dining & Travel, Environment

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