[Note: Please be aware that this post was written on Tuesday, June 22. As I say in this post, the conditions along any stretch of beach can change daily. Additional note at the bottom of this post]
A couple of days ago, I saw the photo on the left among the horrific gallery posted on what I’ve often observed is one of the most powerful blogs on the web: Boston.com’s Big Picture. The tar-ball beach wave photo was identified as being shot at Orange Beach, Alabama, which is just a few hundred yards away from Perdido Key, Fla., where my brother and his family have owned a condo for the past 30 years — a place I’ve enjoyed visiting many, many times.
So I called him up on his cell phone and the conversation went something like this, and included his suggestion that I look at the photo on the right that was posted that morning on his condominium complex’s Facebook page:
Me: “Man, I’m sorry about the beach. That’s awful.”
My brother: “What do you mean?”
“I’m looking at a photo of waves coming into Orange Beach that is making me sick — oil and tar blobs mixed in with some yellow-tide goo; looks like death.”
“I’m at the beach right now and looking at turquoise water and white sand.”
“How? I mean, I thought there were tar balls and oil washing up.”
“Well, BP has a flotilla of boats a few miles off-shore skimming up anything they can find and they also have crews stationed every few hundred yards that look for anything that makes it to the beach.”
“I’m glad to hear BP has at least figured out how to pick up tar balls. So are there any tourists? I think most people I know think the entire Gulf coast is one giant tar pit.”
“I’ve heard that something like 50% of the reservations have been canceled. If anybody ever wanted to get a great deal on a hotel or condo, now’s the time to jump on it. Also, the restaurants and all the tourist related businesses are getting killed — but the beach is beautiful — at least it is today — and it’s like having a private beach at a time when it’s typically very busy.”
We continued to talk about some of the fishing guides that are really hurting and how the localized nature of where the oil is coming ashore reminds us of how hurricanes can hit one area while missing nearby locations. That’s when he told me about the daily photos being posted on the Facebook page so residents and renters of the condos know the condition every day.
After talking with my brother, I saw where Mobile native Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney and others are doing a free concert in Gulf Shores on July 1 for the specific purpose of raising the awareness that the oil disaster may not have necessarily affected the stretch of beach where you were planning a vacation. And while I am in no way suggesting that the disaster caused by the idiocy of BP and your & my addiction to oil is not devastating to nature, wildlife and the economic well being of hundreds of thousands of people, what I am saying is this: our misunderstanding of how local areas are affected differently could be adding to the problem rather than helping.
And I’m also saying, it’s a rare opportunity when helping people make it through a disaster means getting great deals on a cheap trip to the beach — eating and drinking cheaply at restaurants and bars, and then attending a free Jimmy Buffett & friends concert.
That’s what you call a unique public service opportunity.
[Note: As you can see in some comments below, there may have been some confusion in understanding my point with this post. It was to communicate that oil coming ashore along the gulf coast is highly localized and the images we see of one spot do not necessarily mean that a beach one-mile down the coast looks the same. Here is a link to a resource with updates about beach conditions in Escambia County: EscambiaDisasterResponse.com. On Tuesday night (June 22), tar and oil did wash up in Pensacola Beach. But while I’m not going to be updating the post anymore, to underscore the point of the original post, here is some video from this morning (July 23) that shows the same stretch of still beautiful beach that is in the photo above (but shot from about 300 yards to the west). But, please. Keep checking the local conditions as they can change from day to day. Bottomline: If you are planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Gulf Coast, don’t go now. If you are a nearby and regular visitor to the area, say, they know your name at the Flora-Bama, then keep abreast of what the conditions are and make your plans accordingly.]