Under the Surface at Pensacola Beach

by Rob Diaz de Villegas

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Last month, I ventured just outside the Forgotten Coast to Pensacola Beach. I was serving as videographer for Matt Roush and FSU Headlines.  The piece was on research by Marcus Huettel and Joel Kostka on some important little critters (we love important little critters), really little ones.  The sand was a gleaming white, reflecting the sun onto me and burning my feet.  Parents and children swam in the water while a row of bulldozers sat idle with bored cleanup workers resting in the shade of their machines’ canopies.  At a glance, it didn’t look like the beach had recently been covered in a mat of crude oil.

Drs. Huettel and Kostka took a little more than a glance, though.  They and their graduate students dug two trenches in the sand, one on each side of a tent set up by a family right next to the designated research area.  I wondered if those vacationers looked into those trenches and saw what we saw, what you’ll see in the video above.  It looked like a Viennetta ice cream cake- clean white vanilla with little streaks of chocolate.  At least the oil was a little deeper than where a sandcastle moat would be dug.

The little critters being studied eat oil; microbes who may provide us with a safe alternative to products like Corexit.  Corexit disperses oil, spreading it thin enough to be considered safe, with a low enough parts-per-million in the water.  Corexit itself is a solution of mysterious composition (one disclosed ingredient is petroleum distillate) which is potentially toxic.  It’s difficult to tell, as few people know what is in it.  Of course, all of those microbes are part of an ecosystem, and their feeding on this abundant food source and thriving and multiplying may have consequences as well.  Intuitively, the solution nature has honed over millions of years should work more effectively and with less harm to the Gulf than one that seems like it was designed to quickly disperse oil and get it out of our sight.  We’ll see what the research finds.

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