10 years ago today: Oil washed over Florida’s sandy beaches hurting coastal communities - Oceana USA
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June 4, 2020

10 years ago today: Oil washed over Florida’s sandy beaches hurting coastal communities

June 4, 2010


Ten years ago today, toxic oil began washing ashore in Pensacola, Florida. It was six weeks after the BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. While the disaster originated off the coast of Louisiana, oil followed ocean currents to Florida, ultimately reaching every Gulf state and coating more than 1,300 miles of shoreline.

The fallout from Deepwater Horizon disaster was horrific – 11 human lives were lost, hundreds of thousands of animals died and fisheries were shuttered. For Florida, a state with a coastal way of life and economy inextricably linked to a healthy ocean, the consequences were far reaching and permanent.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon was situated more than 130 miles from Pensacola, tar balls coated its white sand beaches and one thing became clear: oil and tourism do not mix.

Julian MacQueen, founder of Innisfree Hotels, a company that owns multiple hotels from Florida to Alabama, recalled that as the oil made its way toward shore, reservations suddenly stopped.

“We had people come to the beach and look at it like they were looking at [the beach] for the last time. We didn’t know if the beaches were going to be black forever,” MacQueen told Oceana. “We didn’t know if our investment after 30 years was doomed.”

Eventually, the decrease in vacationers to MacQueen’s hotels meant he had to lay off more than 200 employees. MacQueen’s experience was not unique – tourists wanted to vacation on oil free beaches.

As the Deepwater Horizon disaster poured more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over 87 days, more than 10 million user beach days were lost, consumer confidence in seafood declined and real estate values dropped. For places like St. Petersburg, Florida, just the perception of oiled beaches affected real estate values – even though oil never reached their shores.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster showed us that when our oceans are suffering, so will our economy and our way of life. A decade later, June 4 is a painful reminder that offshore drilling is already too close to Florida’s coast.  

And it could get even closer. Currently, much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico is protected by a moratorium on oil and gas leasing which is set to expire in 2022. Without congressional action, offshore drilling could move closer to Florida than ever before. It is time to learn from past mistakes and ensure that dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling does not get one inch closer to Florida. It is time to permanently protect the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.  

This is the third piece in an Oceana series looking back at the repercussions of 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and highlighting notable moments in the 87 days that followed, as million of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more about the BP disaster, explore Oceana’s report, Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster.

Explore other key moments in the series: Read about current efforts to stop the expansion of offshore drilling and BP’s failed attempts to stop gushing oil with junk.