Florida Keys environmentalists act to protect against BP oil spill summer 2010

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Campaign slowed in August when currents changed and the oil spill was no longer projected to hit the Florida keys
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Florida Keys towns, especially Key West Marathon and Islamorada
Mission statement from the FKEC: "The mission of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition is to coordinate and support organizations, businesses and individuals, who work to protect the coral reefs and ecosystems of the Florida Keys and to provide a unified voice for our community.within our island environment, do everything we can to protect it."

Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated by BP, millions of gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The Unified Command, a team comprised of BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and several U.S. federal departments, was officially placed in command of the response to the spill. As the Unified Command deployed emergency measures in the north of the Gulf - including the use of oil booms, chemical dispersants and the shutting down of fisheries- Floridians living on the coast worried that the Loop Current could bring oil from the north their way, threatening sensitive corals, mangroves and beaches. The Florida Keys especially were at risk for environmental degradation.

Dan Robey, a Florida Keys native set up the website KeysSpill.com in May. By the 22nd, over 2,200 local volunteers had registered, pledging to help with cleanup efforts. Some volunteers began to clean debris off of beaches, which, if coated with crude, would become hazardous material. Additionally, 300 boat captains offered the use of their vessels. At that time it was thought that the oil could hit the keys within a week.

Under the Unified Command system, boat captains had to register with the Vessels of Opportunity program in order to participate in cleanup efforts. Dan Robey and others expressed concern to BP that only a third of the 7,200 boats under contract in the program were in active service and that the response to the approaching oil was too slow. The Florida Keys Environmental Coalition (FKEC) formed in order to reclaim some control of planning for a response to the spill. FKEC’s main leaders were: Lara Fox, a charter boat captain and longtime environmental activist; Patrick Rice, dean of Marine Science and Technology at the Florida Keys Community College; and George Bellenger, a local boat captain. FKEC gained support from Reef Relief and the Community College. Robey’s website became the central hub for the coalition to gather volunteers and plan events.

In late May, Bellenger found out about a closed meeting between BP and local officials. He and other activists went to the meeting to complain about the lack of preparation efforts by BP in case the oil came to the Florida Keys. At that meeting BP promised to pay $10,000 for hazmat training for 100 local people.

In early June BP also hired a towboat to act as a sentry and keep a lookout for possible approaching oil.

The community college planned a bird cleaning class for locals on 12-13 to be run by Save our Seabirds (SOS, Inc). On June 5th, the coalition received news that BP gave the contract for cleaning seabirds to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research and that Tri-State was not accepting help from other wildlife responders. Patrick Rice of the FKEC argued that Save our Seabirds had a better save-record than Tri-State in previous oil spills and that trained community members should be allowed to participate in protecting their own lands.

In response to the news about the bird cleaning regulations, FKEC organized the “Sea to Still Shining Sea” demonstration in Key West on 7 June. Hundreds of people dressed in blue gathered to link hands on Duval Street, which crosses the entire 4-mile-long island from the Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean. The act was branded as a peaceful demonstration to show that “they may pollute our oceans, they may pollute our seas, but they will not stop us from stepping in and saving our own wildlife”.

Also on or about 7 June Dan Robey and other members of the FKEC met in a town-hall style meeting with BP. Members of the FKEC explained that they wanted to help and to have a proactive plan in place, rather than being reactive.

On 17 June the FKEC hosted a community rally and locals were interviewed by CBS broadcast news. Dan Robey and others passed out fliers about volunteering with the FKEC. The website had collected more than 4000 volunteers by this date, many of whom signed up to take hazmat training. BP said that locals were not allowed to organize a preemptive response until oil was within 72 miles of the coastline.

Several weeks later on 22 July, the City of Marathon, a keys community, passed legislation demanding that the Unified Command system hear recommendations from the FKEC, which by this time had built a strong force of scientists from the college. On 22 July the Village of Isamorada and Key Colony Beach City also endorsed FKEC in “research, improved defense techniques, emergency operation coordination deployment of protection systems, strategies, and tactics and as a significant idea and implementation leader for a community defense strategy.”

In late July models no longer predicted that the Loop Current would bring oil to the Florida Keys due to changing patterns in the eddy. The FKEC continued to organize preparedness for secondary effects of the spill by promising to continue to test local waters for oil-related toxins in the coming months and years as well as to continue to coordinate efforts between organizations and individuals working on projects to protect local ecosystems. Although the threat of the BP oil-spill was not realized in the Keys, the coalition still continued to be prepared to coordinate local action in the face of another disaster. However, although it has been endorsed by local municipalities, there is no evidence that national level structures in disaster response have changed in a way that would incorporate more local voices in the future.

Research Notes
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Lee McClenon 24/09/2013