FLORIDA KEYS — Florida Keys tourism interests enjoyed a busy Memorial Day weekend, despite earlier reservations cancellations stemming from worse-case-scenario speculations that the Keys would be affected by the Transocean/BP Gulf oil spill.
In fact, the Keys have yet to see physical impacts from the spill, according to Billy Causey, superintendent of the southeast region for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries.
Most Keys lodging properties were either sold out or close to full, according to Florida Keys tourism officials. Many reservations came late last week, almost at the last minute.
“We got a great bounce-back once people understood that we had no affects from the Gulf oil spill,” said Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys & Key West.
Still, Keys hotels and other tourism interests remain concerned about upcoming summer months due to earlier misperceptions the island chain might be affected by the spill.
“Future business has been affected,” said Key Largo dive operator Spencer Slate. “We have had cancellations in June, July and August. We’ve had absolutely no evidence of any oil spill and hope that continues.”
The bulk of the oil remains well away from the Keys and close to the spill site, which is almost 500 miles to the northwest of Key West, according to Causey.
Some light and very light sheens of oil have moved south of the site, but in the latest NOAA oil spill trajectory models, officials say they are entrained in a large clockwise current eddy that has pinched off from the main Gulf Loop Current.
While NOAA officials can’t guarantee any oil remnants will never reach the Keys, they are confident that if the area is affected it will be in the form of tar balls and not thick, aqueous oil seen in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Officials say tar balls are much less stressful on the environment and easier to mitigate.
A special Keys website oil spill section at www.fla-keys.com is updated daily with NOAA information and is designed to fully inform travelers to the Keys. Included are NOAA spill trajectory maps, a question-and-answer section and live webcams. Information also is available by calling Florida Keys visitor information specialists at 1-800-FLA-KEYS.
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