Posted by: stiltsville | January 31, 2012

Nova and FIU have drafted a plan to best prepare South Florida for an oil spill off the coast of Cuba

Nova Southeastern University and Florida International University researchers have drafted a plan to prepare South Florida for an oil spill off the coast of Cuba.

The proximity of intended Cuban oil drilling and production puts the U.S. coastal zone at risk from Florida to the Carolinas and northward. Oil from a spill would quickly enter the Gulf Stream and reach Florida’s shores in hours or days with potentially devastating effects on the densely populated South Florida coastline and its coastal ecosystems.

A likely first impact of a major spill would be the iconic and economically valuable Florida Reef Track, a coral reef ecosystem that stretches from the Dry Torgugas in the Keys to Palm Beach County. Effects could be devastating to the ecology of the reef, Florida’s beaches, coastal property and South Florida’s economy.

The sustainability plan calls for a partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard, other federal agencies, and a consortium of South Florida academic institutions, including Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, Florida International University, other schools, and private industry. The Coast Guard is the designated operational leader in any response to a Cuban oil spill.

Because an oil leak originating in Cuban waters will very quickly enter Florida waters, research, planning and preparation activities must be undertaken in advance of an accident so that authorities can respond effectively.

The following were the recommendations that were highlighted:

  • Implement an oil spill early-warning monitoring system using acoustic, geophysical, satellite and other relevant methods.
  • Baseline assessment of the status of coral reef and associated ecosystems in the likely spill path (Straits of Florida, SE/E Florida coast) to prioritize areas for spill response and to set restoration targets should a spill occur.
  • Ocean observations for description of the physical oceanography and current movements to have more complete knowledge of the ocean hydrodynamic movements of the Gulf Stream and Loop Current, shallow to deep, from the Yucatan Channel to the Southeast/East coast of Florida.
  • Oil and dispersed oil toxicity characterization and toxicity studies to determine effects on a range of coral reef ecosystem and other organisms to develop risk assessments.
  • Modeling for prediction of ocean dynamics for spill movement prediction over time and space both in the vertical and horizontal.
  • Modeling for prediction of ecological /biological effects under various spill and response scenarios.
  • Modeling to assess the potential impact of different observing strategies on baseline data collection, analysis of information, and data required for response and mitigation.

My bet is that an oil spill off Cuba’s coast will be on us faster than we can react. How much oil boom is pre-positioned in the Florida Keys? Do we have a Florida-based fleet of skimmers that can be on site in less than 24 hours? Remember, when the Deepwater Horizon went down, BP was able to write checks fast to rally troops and equipment. Can we expect the same from Repsol?


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