Recent projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmthe sentiments of a leading local expert that there is a minimal likelihood of oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill impacting The Beaches of Sanibel and Captiva on southwest Florida’s Gulf coast.
In a technical report released July 2, NOAA reports that the probability of oil impacting the destination is less than 1 percent and that the probability of oiling for much of the west coast of Florida is 20 percent or less. It further states that 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.
The report echoes statements from Kristie Anders, education director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who earlier stated that the chances of oil impacting The Beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are slim. She said the loop current in the Gulf 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,” explains 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.”
Anders further explains that the Gulf Stream, a warm Atlantic Ocean current and one of the strongest known ocean currents, originates in the gulf as the Loop Current that is steered by the continental shelf. The shelf is the extended perimeter of each continent that was part of the continent during glacial periods when sea levels were lower, but the shelf is undersea in relatively shallow waters during interglacial periods such as the current timeframe.
To date, NOAA reports that no significant amount of oil has entered the Loop Current.