Forget mid-week predictions; some beach-side residents worry the Emerald Coast’s worst nightmare may, in fact, be true.
An April 20 oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana that was first characterized with cautious optimism now has residents in Santa Rosa County scrambling.
Joy Tsubooka, public information officer for Santa Rosa County, said her office has been inundated with calls from concerned residents.
“We’ve inspected the area and determined that what people are seeing is a natural occurrence,” said Tsubooka, referring to the brown, thick foam riding on the waves of Gulf-side waters. “What we expect to see is a foamy sheen-like chemical mix, and tar balls and that’s just not here yet.”
Debbie Wright, a beach-dweller who lives with her partner Ray Nosewicz on the 11th-floor of a high-rise condo on Navarre Beach, said she reported what she believed were the first remnants of the spill.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said.
Wright, who, like many others in this tranquil community, is a willing transplant from “up north,” said the prospect of residue from the 5,000-plus barrels of oil that are leaking daily from the site of the catastrophic explosion is “potentially devastating.”
“People do not understand the ‘before’ here,” she said, choking back tears. “People who don’t live here can’t understand that this is not how it is supposed to be. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad this is.”
The mucky substance that Wright and others have observed today appears to mimic the effects of an oil spill. According to the Water Encyclopedia, a collaborative research website dedicated to exploring the science of water, oil residue can form “a thick mousse,” similar to what residents are calling Tsubooka’s office about.
In addition to what she describes as a “thick, sticky” residue on the sand, Wright also discovered what she believed was a casualty of the spill: a dead egret washed ashore.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I also saw dead fish washing up with the tide. I can’t tell you how bad this is going to be.”
According to Santa Rosa County officials, Wright’s findings are what they refer to as “normal.”
Brian Lowman, an expert fisherman and columnist for Navarre Press, said what’s missing from the substance Wright reported is the characteristic smell that would accompany any oil residue polluting the pristine waters of the Emerald Coast.
“You would definitely smell it,” he said. “And there’s no mistaking that smell.”
Tsubooka said there is no cause for concern – right now.
“If it were here already, we’d be the first to let people know,” she said.
For Wright, Tsubooka’s explanation is little consolation.
“If its here now we have to let people know,” she said.
Santa Rosa County officials predicted the slick would affect local waters in about 72 hours, or as late as Monday. Wright worries their predictions may have been too conservative.
“I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure we’re seeing the affects already,” she said.
At an early-morning press conference, Santa Rosa County Commissioner Gordon Goodin called the spill “uncontrollable flow” and warned residents of the underlying dangers to the local area.
“You'll notice it long before it reaches our shores,” he said.
Goodin also cautioned residents to keep track of hotel and condo cancellations, citing possible reimbursement for lost revenue.
In addition to fears for the negative impact on their real estate investment, the tragedy represents the loss of a dream for residents like Wright and Nosewicz.
“We searched the country for a retirement home, and nothing compared to these beaches,” said Wright, referring to the sugar-sand coast that lures tens of thousands of visitors to the area each year. “The worst of it all is to feel so powerless.”
Navarre Press will continure to provide up-to-the-minute information as it becomes available.