If an oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon approaches Anna Maria Island, officials plan to divert it with booms away from mangroves and estuaries and onto the Gulf’s sandy beaches.
The plan is not likely to be used during the current disaster, since forecasters predict that if oil reaches the Island, it will be in the form of subsurface tar balls and patties that could not be diverted by booms floating on the surface.
Part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Area Contingency Plan calls for sensitive environmental areas around the north and south ends of the Island to be protected by a system of deflection booms that would redirect oil onto the beaches.
The strategies were developed in 1995 after oil spilled from one of three tankers that collided in Tampa Bay in 1993.
Oil is easier to clean off sandy beaches than from mangrove roots and seagrass beds, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Department of Natural Resources.
Ideally, booms would protect every inch of coastline, but “There’s not enough boom in the world to cover the coastline of four states,” Manatee County Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison said.
“There is a minor concern we would see oil, but the consensus is that the loop current is so far west past our sand shelf that the oil would go past us,” Hutchison said.
If an oil slick does approach, “We’ve worked out booming strategies for such an event, concentrating on natural gathering points,” he said.
Oil diversion plan
At the north end of the Island, the plan would divert oil entering the Passage Key Inlet south of the main channel to the beach on the Gulf side of the Island. Oil in the main channel would be diverted to two collection points on the bay side of the Island.
At the south end of the Island, the plan would divert oil entering Longboat Pass to two collection points on the Gulf beaches, one on Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island and one on Longboat Key. Oil in the main channel would be diverted to a collection point on Anna Maria Island west of the bridge. Other collection points include two sites south of Leffis Key on the bay side of Anna Maria Island and two sites on the bay side of Longboat Key, to protect Jewfish Key.
The plan is designed to save several at-risk resources, including mangroves, salt marshes, manatees and birds.
The south end of the Island near Longboat Pass is noted for wading birds, including the great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret and white ibis, and seabirds, including the doublecrested cormorant and the brown pelican, according to the plan.
The north end of Anna Maria near Bean Point is a nationally-known nesting ground for threatened and endangered birds, including snowy plovers, least terns and black skimmers.
Beach cleanup plan
The Coast Guard plan also addresses how to clean oily beaches.
“If a sandy shoreline has heavy and extensive fuel coverage, the use of heavy industrial equipment such as bulldozers or road graders could be utilized. This would be followed by the replacement of the sediment,” the plan states.
“In the case of minor ecological damage, a manual cleanup may be performed, if possible, which would eliminate the removal of sediment and the overall effect on the ecological balance of a particular beach. Cleanup efforts must include effective measures to protect nesting sea turtles and shore birds. Different types of cleanup methods may involve rock-washing, use of sorbent equipment, harbor boom for corralling a product against land and vacuum trucks to pick up the product.”