Monday, 31 January 2011

To Beach Or Not to Beach?

The spill began almost two months ago, unleashing more than two hundred thousand gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico everyday since. The first signs were ominous, macabre: dead sea turtles washing up on shores of Mississippi and Alabama. Surely something was out there. Something bad. Soon after, the loathsome culprit made itself known, as gelatinous slicks of ooze infiltrated the coastal marshlands of Southern Louisiana. Mobile Bay and Gulf Shores Mississippi saw their first signs of oil the following week. And in the last few days, globs of crude began washing ashore on barrier islands near Pensacola Florida.
But there's a lot more out there. And it's not exactly staying put.
Ocean currents are bringing the sludge mainly north, sparing most of Florida's West Coast. For now. But for northwest Florida -- named the 'Emerald Coast' for its beautiful green waters -- a close-encounter with the crude is inevitable. No one can tell for sure how bad it will be, but it is coming - it already has. And thousands of summer tourists who typically flock to the beaches of Destin, Fort Walton, Pensacola, and Annapolis have already made a change of plans. Florida is, after all, a big state.
Since the spill happened, greater Orlando has seen increases in hotel and vacation home activity, in excess of what is normally seen in the early summer season. Similar increases have been reported on Florida's East Coast, in Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral. In a June 6th report by Clark Fouraker of ABC News, Sara Moore of Orlando-based All Star Vacation Homes made the following comment: "I would not say that it's off the charts, but we have started to receive inquiries. People are traveling to Orlando. This summer is up from last year."
So what does this mean for your Florida vacation? It could mean several things, including oily beaches, but almost certainly lower cost.
The Emerald Coast has yet to see heavy oil on their shores. Depending on currents and how quickly the disaster is contained, the area may escape relatively unscathed. Or, it could turn into the La Brea tar pits in a matter of weeks. In any case, with millions of tourist dollars hanging in the balance, you're likely to find very good deals if you do take your chances on the beach. On the other hand, the influx of beach goers into the Orlando market is only raising the stakes in an already competitive market; you'll certainly find great deals on vacation rental homes.
Of course it's the sea turtles and pelicans who really need the vacation. Millions are being invested in cleanup efforts, but the toll on wildlife is already apparent. Sea turtles, bluefin tuna, and many other species already struggling against human encroachment only face harder times from the accident. But it could be worse. The 1979 Ixtoc I spill released far greater volumes of oil into waters off Mexico. Even then, the Gulf's resilient ecosystem survived and rebounded. And just like the Gulf, Florida's economy is also adapting, weathering this disaster as best it can. In the end, we hope it's a story of survival, ecologically and economically.
By Matthew Donahue, for Starmark Vacation Homes.