The heat index on the beaches here is 138 Fahrenheit. The crews that are laboring to clean up the tar balls are only permitted to work 15-minute shifts before taking mandatory rest/cooling-off periods. Television crews from major news stations are clustered around Casino Beach. This is where The Weather Channel’s Julie Martin is giving periodic live updates.
On Sunday, the beach was pristine and the water turquoise and clear. A sand-sculpture contest included entries that addressed the spill, but these didn’t win. The beach was jammed full of people playing in the water or sitting in the bright sunshine.
A bit farther east on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, small globs of oil were strung out on the sand and when the wind changed you could smell the oil that is sitting just offshore. The smell grew stronger later in the day, when the odor seemed intensified as we explored the area around Ft. Pickens.
Early in the morning, clean-up crews comb the beaches while tractorw tow Sand Rakes through the white sands. The sheriff’s department is out in force, wherever there is a TV crew. Yesterday, there was a minor protest at the Pensacola pier at around the same time that someone from BP gave a statement about its “Vessel of Opportunity” program that hires local boatowners to deploy boom in the Gulf. We saw some of the boom in the waters by Ft. Pickens, but the boom seems small, like a toy boom, against the vast expanse of the Gulf waters.
We’ve seen the cleaning cews dragging bags of tar balls, but my guess is that they are doing this collecting earlier than we are getting out there. The vibe here is odd with the contrast of playful beachgoers and the damage-control crews going about their respective businesses side by side. The slick and sheen aren’t visible even with binoculars, but the tar balls leave brown staining on the sand. The cleaning to my mind is like erasing; if you didn’t know any better, you’d never suspect that this event occurred.