A concentration of tar balls has been spotted on Navarre Beach, ending months of speculation as to how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would affect the sugar-white sand beaches of the Emerald Coast.
The tar balls were first spotted today, June 4, by beach-walkers.
“Around 7 a.m. this morning, right after daylight, a volunteer walking the beach spotted them,” said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Gordon Goodin. “They’re so small – about the size of a dime – that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might not even know they were there.”
Watch the video here.
According to officials, the thumbnail-sized tar balls mixed with seaweed and algae, are washing up on shore in the wrack line - a seaweed and algae-laden line of debris that rests on the beach at the highest reach of the surging waves. They were discovered on the western-most tip on Navarre Beach, less than a mile from the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Though the tar balls have not officially been confirmed by BP’s Unified Command, clean-up crews were deployed. The deployment of the response team is part of the protocol designated by Santa Rosa County’s Emergency Management department and the State Warning Point, the two entities responsible for oversight in the area.
“Response crews were deployed immediately,” said Goodin. “They are professionals; they know what they’re doing. We are in good hands.”
Goodin said the tar balls seem to be isolated and have not yet affected the rest of the areas beaches.
“Obviously they’re more prevalent in some areas,” he said.
In a release distributed this morning, the county stressed that Navarre’s beaches are still open, lending to speculation that the discovery of tar balls might drive tourism away.
“The beach is still open,” said Goodin. “This not the thick slick some states have experienced. There are many families who are still out, enjoying the day and we want to encourage that.”
Residents have been waiting with trepidation since news of the spill first broke in April. Some experts predicted residents would smell the oil before it arrived, though the tell-tale scent had only been reported a handful of times, mostly when winds shifted.
Goodin said today’s discovery was a “small blessing.”
“There are other areas that have been harder hit,” he said. “What we’re dealing with is small, compared to that. It could be much worse. The question is, is this the new normal?”