Floridians have found frisbee-sized oil clumps along Pensacola Beach, as the state braced itself for damage to its tourism and fishing industries from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
About 120 people were working to clean up ”hundreds, maybe thousands” of tar balls and ”tar mats” – flat clumps of oil as long as 30 centimetres – that washed ashore overnight, Daniel Akerman, a spokesman for Florida’s Escambia County, said. He called the impact minor and said the beach remained open.
Florida officials and tourism industry executives are juggling two missions, working to protect the shore from oil while assuring tourists that the state’s 1330 kilometres of beaches remain safe so far.
Florida draws about 80 million visitors a year, bringing in $US60 billion ($A71 billion) and making tourism the state’s No. 1 industry, according to Kathy Torian, spokeswoman for Florida’s tourism office in Tallahassee. Tourism accounted for almost a quarter of the state’s sales tax revenue, she said.
US Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat from the state, met hotel owners, business owners, fishermen and environmentalists in St Petersburg in west central Florida on Friday.
”There’s tremendous anxiety,” she said.
A ”very big topic” of the discussion was what the London-based BP should do to help, Ms Castor said.
BP had said it would have a representative in Florida to help fishermen and others affected by the spill with claims, she said.