October 20, 2010

Gulf Beaches To Be Clear Of Oil By Year’s End

A top US official promised Tuesday that beaches tainted with oil and balls of tar from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be clean by the end of the year, hoping to attract tourists back to the region, which has suffered both economically and ecologically.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft said "we're still in it for the long haul" at a press conference marking six months since the deadly rig explosion that caused the largest-scale maritime spill in history.

Zukunft said although the response has been considerably scaled back since the height of the disaster, from 50,000 to 13,000 personnel, he assured there was an ongoing massive effort to finish the job.

He announced the launch of operation "Deep Clean" that is aimed at restoring beaches to their former glory, from Louisiana to Florida, that are so vital for the region's economy.

His aim is to have the work completed by the end of the year "because those beaches are very critical to the economies of those coastal communities."

More than 550 miles of coastline in Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama remain affected by the disaster. The affected region alone has a one-billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry.

"We've developed a couple of mechanical devices," Zukunft told AFP. "One"Ëœs called "ËœThe Sand Shark,' that can reach up to 3 feet deep into a recreational beach." He said the machine will leave the sand in place, but will remove the tar from the sand column.

Scientists are currently testing Gulf waters to see if fishing grounds can be reopened, while delicate marsh grasses are carefully and thoroughly cleaned to try and save the fragile wetland ecosystem.

It is unknown what long-term effect the Gulf disaster is going to have on fish, but Louisiana's vital oyster and shrimp industries were virtually wiped out as the toxic crude polluted oyster beds and spawning grounds.

The government's fleet of vessels continued to scour the Gulf testing waters and taking samples trying to establish what long-term damage to certain species remained, and when fishing grounds can safely be reopened.

"We've got a number of grids throughout the Gulf of Mexico where we're looking at upwards of 50 to 60 different fish species within each grid," Zukunft told AFP.

Image Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley


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