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Four Years Later: Tar Mat Cleanup Continues Off Ft. Pickens

Photo via Flickr// Louisiana GOHSEP

Cleanup is ongoing in the waters off Fort Pickens, of a massive tar mat discovered last Friday. Testing is underway to determine if the oil originated from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The mat was discovered by a Florida Department of Environmental Protection monitor who looks for leftover oil from the explosion. Working through the weekend, a pollution investigation team funded by BP has removed more than 1,200 pounds of mat, made up of oil, sand, shells and water,according to Lt. Commander Natalie Murphy with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Responders did take a sample,” said Murphy. “And we’ll take that sample to the Coast Guard’s lab, where they’ll confirm by fingerprint. But visual identifications that my investigation team has been trained, it’s visually consistent with the oil from the Deepwater Horizon.”

This week is the fourth anniversary of when the oil from the shattered oil platform began hitting the beaches in Escambia County. Residents and officials already were battling mousse – a brownish component of the crude oil. Dan Brown, Superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore, says the work is very tedious thanks in large part to Mother Nature.

“They’ve had to use GPS coordinates when they go back out, following data to work on it,” Brown said. “They’ve had to stop due to thunderstorms. High tide has caused some challenges as well.”

Whenever a call comes in about a possible tar mat, they contact the Coast Guard’s National Response Center. Cleanup work is being shared among BP, the Coast Guard, state DEP and the National Park Service. The discovery comes during an especially delicate time of the year for wildlife at GINS, particularly nesting turtles and birds.

This latest mat discovery is about a half-mile east of an area where 1,400 pounds of like material was removed last March. Dan Brown says despite the current removal project, its business as usual at the park.

Friday’s discovery was made as the National Park Service stepped up looking for suspected tar mats further out in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with digging out the tar mat from the sand, the team is surveying about 100 yards east and west of the location to make sure none others are buried in the Gulf bottom.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.