The 100 miles of beaches of the Florida Panhandle constitute the greatest strand of white sand on the planet. More than one-third (35 miles) have now been closed by the insidious oil oozing-out unabated since late April from more than a mile below the once pristine surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Slowly, and almost as surely, America's "Sunshine State" is inching towards becoming an international vacation destination with the rules of an archaic museum: "Look, but don't touch!"
Floridians are angry. Their anger portentous of disastrous consequences for States and Provinces which have never (and may never) indulge the desire to allow oil drilling rigs off their shores. Like our pristine garden gem, Prince Edward Island; or the sandy beaches of southwestern New Brunswick which are at the mercy of drilling operations deep in the offshore of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Or, of British-Columbia's unique rugged coastline and the mighty oil carriers that ply the waters from Alaska down towards deep water ports below the 49th parallel.
When rigs first started drilling for oil off the coast of Louisiana more than 60 years ago; in Florida they scanned their own shorelines of dotted resorts and beaches of startling beauty and concluded: "No Thanks! - We'll stick with tourism."
The rare sands of the Florida peninsula tempered by its subtropical climate are the underpinning of a totally dependant tourism economy. The mere possibility of damage to the beaches is already hurting the industry in areas not yet affected by the oily tar balls from below; like the Tampa Bay area and communities south. In the majestic Florida Keys, an ecosystem unequalled anywhere in the world, locals are resigned to..."waiting for it all to disappear." As Key Largo resident Mike McLaughlin recently told the Associated Press.
The lesson learned for Florida, as perhaps it should be with Canada's coastal provinces; is that the State gets little if any financial benefits from drilling off its shore, even though it is sharing all of the environmental risks. Risks estimated just last week at the loss of 195,000 jobs and $11-Billion this year alone (2010) if the BP Oil disaster cuts tourism just by half.
And...there are far many other things it could lose beyond tourism and fishing. Florida's housing is concentrated along the State's 8,500 miles of shoreline. Deep in the wake of the 2007/09 economic downturn, housing values have sunk by as much as one-third, and statewide the unemployment rate is 12%. The impact of the oil spill could savage the economy for decades ahead.
Floridians may be heartbroken and suffering in silence over the damage they see in neighbouring Louisiana: But, they also compare Louisiana's quest for the ephemeral riches of oil and gas exploration to a neighbour with a bonfire that has now set the entire block on fire.