Guest Columnist

As this edition of the Longboat Key News goes to press, the last chapter in the ugly saga of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is being written. After a summer of depressing headlines and grim images of the spill’s effects on beaches, marine life, businesses and tourism along the northern Gulf Coast, the latest dispatches from the disaster site bring much welcomed relief.

The Macondo Well has been successfully capped from above; and a more elaborate procedure involving pumping mud and concrete down its casing—called “static kill”— was declared a complete success by the officials, scientists and engineers involved. Over the next few days, the long-awaited relief well will intersect the damaged well at its base and pump in additional mud and concrete from below. Once the concrete hardens, as it already has from above, the well will be declared officially dead and recovery along the affected areas of the gulf Coast can truly begin in earnest. Thankfully Southwest Florida is nowhere near the affected areas—those being certain beaches and waterways along coastal Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and a small sliver of Florida’s far western panhandle (which has already been cleaned-up).

It’s very important to note that oil never once threatened the Southwest Coast of Florida; and never came within hundreds of miles of our shoreline. Not so much as a single tar ball from the spill has washed up onto one of our beaches. In fact, we are tremendously proud of Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory, which, among its many contributions in analyzing, fighting and cleaning-up after the spill, has sent at least two robotic submarines into the waters off Southwest Florida to constantly monitor for the presence of oil and chemical dispersants off our coastline. Additionally it has used its beach monitoring system to advise beach-goers of conditions at 33 selected beaches in nine counties.

No doubt valuable lessons will be learned in the aftermath of the spill, including more ironclad ways to prevent future ones; but residents along our particular stretch of the Gulf Coast—well more than 300 miles southeast of the disaster site—have already learned that ours is a location blessed by nature. It has positioned our stretch of Southwest Florida’s magnificent coastline in such a way as to benefit from the prevailing “loop current,” whose flow will literally pull oil-tainted water away from our region and route it out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We also learned that the constant counterclockwise motion of these currents takes place no closer than 150 miles from our shoreline.

It is also worth noting that even if the situation had deteriorated into the worst-case scenario that many feared, Southwest Florida—from just north of Tampa to below Marco Island—was nevertheless predicted to be the one region along Florida’s two coasts to least feel its effects. In that scientifically proven fact we were able to take great comfort throughout the crisis, knowing that our beaches and waterways stood less than a one percent chance of experiencing fallout from a spill of unprecedented proportions. Other parts of the West Coast north of Tampa faced a more ominous 20 percent chance; while somewhat surprisingly, the East Coast of Florida was the most threatened of all regions after the Northern Gulf coastlines nearest the spill. The Florida Keys and Miami were given an 80 percent chance of seeing tar balls and oil sheen within 20 miles of their beaches once the loop current flushed them from the Gulf and into the Gulf Stream current that travels up the east coast.

Given the massive uncertainty about the actual size of the spill, its anticipated spread and seemingly endless days of watching new oil spew unfettered into the gulf, it was quite natural—even prudent—for many homebuyers to postpone purchasing waterfront properties along the Gulf Coast until more was known or the situation resolved.

Subsequent evidence that our beaches are naturally protected from major spills by the Gulf of Mexico’s prevailing currents was enough to bring many waterfront homebuyers back into the market. But now that the well is fully capped and just days from being entombed for good, well-priced waterfront properties are selling as rapidly as before the incident. In fact, now that widely-broadcast studies have revealed that Southwest Florida beaches were the most naturally protected of all during the spill, one might even conclude that communities such as Longboat Key will attract that many more waterfront buyers previously undecided about where to purchase.

At last report, government officials are estimating that 75 percent of the spilled oil has been captured, skimmed-off, burnt-off or naturally degraded. Which, of course, remains to be seen. But the big story for us as Labor Day approaches and summer nears its end is that our white sand beaches and azure blue surf are as clean, gorgeous and inviting as they were April 19, the day before the Deepwater Horizon exploded and all hell broke loose in the Northern Gulf.