Florida Keys could be like “an abandoned mining town”; Ad campaign for ‘reef fest’ reaches 1.5 million people, only 6 show up

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
By Paul Martin

June 16th, 2010

Florida Skips Offshore Oil Binge but Still Pays, New York Times, June 12, 2010:

Gov. Charlie Crist said in an interview last week that “there’s a certain level of frustration” with the fact that Florida gets little if any financial benefit from offshore drilling, even though it shares the environmental risks.

On docks and beaches, many Floridians are less measured, and compare Louisiana to a neighbor with a bonfire that has set their block ablaze. …

Florida officials have held drilling at bay with state laws and lobbying in Washington to protect their state’s bustling tourism industry. …

[O]il and gas contribute about $65 billion a year to the Louisiana economy, according to the state’s oil and gas association, while in Florida, tourism accounts for about $60 billion.

The difference, Floridians now note, is that a crowded bar in Miami has no impact on New Orleans. Oil spills are a different story. …

Florida has a lot to lose, even beyond tourism and fishing. Housing has become increasingly concentrated along the state’s 8,436 miles of shoreline. With property values already down by a third in many areas and unemployment around 12 percent, the state could see its economy darkened for a decade by the spill.

Also vulnerable is the third-largest reef system in the world, which sits just offshore in the likely path of the loop current that, according to oceanographers,has already sent small blots of oil around Florida’s tip.

Residents worry about losing not just their livelihood, but also their way of life.

Fishermen motor out every day from docks all over the Keys searching for mahi mahi or lobster when the season opens in August, leaving early in the morning for that blissful moment when the sun rises over an open sea.

Boat-dwellers like Paul Peterson, 57, who piloted his 21-foot sailboat here from Massachusetts nine years ago, can hardly imagine being told that the water is off limits, or that the fish are too toxic to eat. …

Key Largo hosted a “reef fest” for divers last week, but after an extensive advertising campaign estimated to have reached 1.5 million people, only six divers showed up. Jackie Harder, president of the local chamber of commerce, said she had expected 300.

Charter boat captains and diving instructors are also struggling. In previous years, they would usually have had bookings for much of July by now. But next month is wide open for old-timers like Skip Bradeen, 67, who said he had never seen it this bad in his 40 years of taking amateurs out to land the big one.

What really worries most fishermen and environmental scientists are the long-term consequences if oil is carried around the coast of Florida, with plumes underwater and slicks onshore.

“It’s untold billions of babies of fish and lobsters and crabs,” said Douglas N. Rader, chief ocean scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. “A wide array of seafood that is in the surface layers of the sea are transferred through the superhighway of the loop current and are depending on the habitats affected by the oil.” …

Albert Pflueger, 50, another fisherman, whose family once owned the largest taxidermy company in South Florida, pondered the question. Across the docks sat a boat named What Next. Removing his sunglasses, Mr. Pflueger said he could imagine the Keys emptying out like an abandoned mining town.

“The whole Keys makes its living on the water,” he said. “If there is no water, there is no Keys.”

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