DEP Developing Beach Watch Program, Continue Monitoring of Gulf Coast Beaches

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Enviornmental Protection is developing a volunteer-based, beach watch pilot program in the Panhandle to continue monitoring oil on our beaches following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Department’s Office of Emergency Response is designing this pilot program.

The pilot program will endeavor to mirror successful volunteer beach monitoring efforts in other states by enlisting the assistance of concerned residents to observe specific stretches of shoreline and to report any pollution of concern. The program will provide training, organization and a communication network to interested residents so they can augment Department efforts. The goal is for the program to work in concert with any established watch groups and provide a coordination mechanism to maximize efforts.

On April 20, 2010, an offshore oil drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, 50 miles from the coast of Louisiana, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Florida experienced the first oiling in state waters on June 4, 2010. This program will provide a long-term solution to the monitoring of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches for oil that may wash ashore from that spill or any future incident. It will bring together the Department, Florida panhandle counties and environmental groups, all of whom have a vested interest in ensuring the state’s beaches remain oil free.

“The Department is committed to ensuring that any continuing impacts to Florida beaches are documented and remedied swiftly and completely,” said Office of Emergency Response Director Gwen Keenan. “Trained employees will provide the necessary transitional monitoring while working in partnership with the Coast Guard.”

For the last three years, the United States Coast Guard has been the lead agency overseeing BP’s efforts to rid the Gulf Coast beaches of tar balls, tar mats and other oil materials from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Coast Guard had supervised the BP-funded teams to patrol the beach. Throughout this period, the Department has assisted with the monitoring of the Gulf Coast counties.

June 1 marked the end of the active monitoring phase. The Coast Guard, as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, moved Florida’s beaches out of active monitoring, based on the routinely minimal amounts of oiled debris being recovered from Florida’s beaches in recent months.

Until the “Beach Watch” pilot program is operational, the Department will maintain a team, under the direction of the Office of Emergency Response, to monitor beaches for oil product. These employees, who have been part of the clean up and monitoring efforts for more than two years, will spend three days per week checking “hot spots” in Escambia County and the other days in the counties and state parks to the east. Oil product found will be removed on-site if possible or staff will report larger quanitities to the Coast Guard for removal by an oil spill contractor. The team will remain with Department for 6-12 months, depending on necessity.

If you are interested in participating in the “Beach Watch” pilot program please check the Office of Emergency Response page on the Department website for updates on the program’s development.

Report any tar balls, or suspected tar balls to the National Reporting Center hotline at 1-800-424-8802. The center’s website is www.nrc.uscg.mil. When calling, be sure to have as much detailed information as possible, such as street name or landmark and the size and description of the oily product.

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