On April 20, the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up and sank, killing 11 people and causing an oil spill that will likely result in millions of gallons of light Louisiana crude oil fouling the Gulf of Mexico, myriad species of sea life, shorelines, and commercial fishing interests. As a result, recent headlines in all the local news outlets asked the question on all our minds: will the Brass Monkey survive?
The good news for all of us is, YES – the honchos at Winn Dixie learned quickly not to come between Keys people and their favorite watering holes. The Brass Monkey (a true local family-owned business) will carry on, and there will be a Christmas (in July) this year. Not only that, but Winn Dixie comes out as a hero in all of this as well, assuring that the Brass Monkey will have a home in the plaza for years to come, and by springing for the burgers and dogs at the non-picket picnic and Brass Monkey Street Fair.
Now that this matter is settled, let’s turn to what might happen here in the Keys as a result of this ever-expanding oil slick. More recent local headlines suggest that we’re screwed. Others say we have nothing to really worry about. Perhaps, like me, you’re wondering just who knows what the hell they’re talking about. Although I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I was a marine biology major in college, and I have a passing familiarity with ocean currents and other pertinent stuff. Anyway, here are the divergent scenarios being presented by the experts.
A University of Miami oceanography professor identified as either Nick Shay or Lynn Keith Shay (depending upon which paper you might have read), and University of South Florida oceanographer Robert Weisberg are our Chicken Little/Channel 7 scientists. Their scenarios range from it could conceivably happen to the Keys (Shay) to “It is imminent” (Weisberg). These scientists postulate that sooner or later, the slick will be pushed far south enough to be picked up by an eddy that feeds into the Loop Current, the current that takes warm Gulf waters and channels them into the Gulf Stream that passes close to the Keys. Local sea life will suffer, the mangroves are in grave danger, and we’re doomed.
The other scenario comes courtesy of Eric Chassignet, director of the Center for Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University. Chassignet sees little chance that any real quantity of the oil could show up in Keys waters. Even though his message is infinitely preferable to the Shay/Weisberg scenario, that wouldn’t be enough for his message to get any press were there not any real science behind the potential good news.
According to Chassignet, the Loop Current is moving south – farther away from the slick – as it does this time of the year. NOAA computer models confirm that the Loop Current will be 200-300 miles away, and that the chance of any part of the slick being blown that far south is a slim chance indeed. Chassignet’s findings seem to be confirmed by Doug Helton, NOAA's incident operations coordinator from the oil rig explosion site. Helton believes that there won’t be any winds strong enough to push the slick to the Loop Current. Chassignet also believes that even if the slick somehow manages to get as far south as the eddy, that the eddy current won’t be strong enough to push the oil into the Loop Current.
It’s no huge surprise that I (along with most other thinking Keys people) prefer the Chassignet scenario. I really hope (and believe) that his science is better than Shay’s and Weisberg’s. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do but sit and wait and get our hair cut. In case you missed this headline, salons around the nation are collecting hair clippings because human hair is a very effective way to clean up and absorb oil spills. Who knew? Those who did can also tell us that the practice of using hair clippings to absorb oil started after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
So as we wait with bated breath and shorn locks for what may or may not be coming our way, at least the Brass Monkey remains open for us to just chill with a cocktail and forget about things for a while.