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Oil coming to islands less than 1% chance

By Staff | Jul 14, 2010

When news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) arrived here on the islands last week, with headlines that they are projecting "a less than one percent chance" of any oil leaked by the Deepwater Horizon disaster reaching the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva, residents, businesses and vacationers breathed a collective sigh of relief

"That’s the greatest news anybody could’ve expected," said Ric Base, President of the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce. "We’ve been watching the NOAA website for a while, so when they came out with news that there was a less than one percent chance of any oil coming here, we were absolutely thrilled."

In the technical report issued by NOAA, they explained that the probability of leaked oil impacting Sanibel and Captiva is less than one percent. The report also stated that the probability of oiling for much of the west coast of Florida is 20 percent or less.

According to NOAA, "any oil reaching the area would have spent considerable time degrading and dispersing and would be in the form of scattered tar balls and not a large surface slick of oil."

Hearing that news dramatically improved the tourism outlook for members of the island’s chamber as well as to businesses throughout Southwest Florida.

"We just have to get that word out to people," said Base. "We want the residents to know, and we hope they’ll tell all of their out-of-town friends about it, too."

Kristie Anders, education director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said at a recent chamber function that  the chances for oil to reach local beaches were very slim.

Anders explained that the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico follows the edge of the West Florida Continental Shelf, which runs parallel to the state’s coast and extends to about 150 miles off the destination’s shores. When the strong current hits the shelf, it curves southward along its edge.

"The continental shelf serves as our guardian angel," said Anders. "Barring a major storm, it’s the greatest reason to be optimistic that we will experience minimal impact from the spill, since it will steer the loop current away from our area and well offshore of Southwest Florida."

Since hearing NOAA’s report, Base has been busy trying to pass along the positive forecast. His three key messages that are being communicated through the chamber’s members to their customers are:

1) Currently, there is no local impact from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

2) We are open for business.

3) We don’t know if our area will be affected, but it is in no imminent danger

"Right now, we’ve been dealing with a lot of Florida folks who are coming here. They understand what’s going on," said Base. "But we’re also getting calls from all over the country asking if there’s any oil on our beaches. They want to know if we’ve been affected by the spill. From what we’re hearing, people think that if there’s oil in the (Florida) panhandle, it’s here, too."

Of course, that isn’t the case. That’s why Base is so passionate about getting the real facts out to the public. Recently, the chamber added a Facebook fan page where people can read — in addition to the chamber’s own website — about the current conditions of Sanibel and Captiva beaches.

"Our beaches are clean and we’re open for business," he added. "That’s the word that needs to get out there. The more people that know that, the more people that will come here."