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Gulf Coast Beaches Face Uncertain Weekend

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July 2, 2010 by   Leave a Comment

As Americans gear up for the Fourth of July weekend, coastal areas affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are working hard to keep beach-bound travelers informed, CNN reported today (July 2).

Here are some of the latest updates from destinations affected by the oil disaster:

Northwest Florida

A health advisory was issued Thursday for all beaches in Escambia County, including Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and parts of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, according to the Pensacola Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website.

Extensive oil sheen, tar balls and mousse prompted the advisory urging visitors to avoid contact with oil on shore and in the water.

The water along the Santa Rosa Sound on the north side of Santa Rosa Island remains open for swimming.

The Okaloosa County Health Department withdrew a health advisory issued June 24 for Destin beaches.

“The oil impacts on our beaches are intermittent and can change within hours or within a day due to the dynamic nature of the currents and changing wind directions,” the department said in a news release rescinding the advisory.

The department urges visitors to avoid entering the water when oil is present.

Large amounts of oil washing ashore prompted the Walton County Health Department to issue a health advisory Wednesday for beaches in Topsail Hill State Park, according to the area’s Tourist Development Council.

All of the county’s beaches remain open, the council’s website said.

Meanwhile, small, scattered tar balls and oil patches have affected Panama City Beach, but the beaches and water are open, the area’s visitors bureau website said.

Oil has not been reported onshore in the state beyond northwest Florida, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism corporation.

Alabama

Stronger winds and surf from Tropical Storm Alex have increased oiling on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, according to the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“While the storm does not directly affect our area, it is having an impact on the amount of oil reaching our shores and limiting the ability for cleanup,” the bureau’s website said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued an advisory against swimming in waters off Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, and in bay waters close to Fort Morgan, Bayou St. John, Terry Cove, Cotton Bayou and Old River.

Waters off beaches flying double red flags are officially closed.

Last week, the department also issued a no-swimming advisory for Dauphin Island and the Mississippi Sound.

Mississippi

South Mississippi beaches experienced significant oiling on Sunday and Monday, according to the Mississippi Gulf Coast visitors bureau.

Advisories have been issued for two areas along the beaches in Jackson and Harrison counties. The beaches are not closed, but state officials “advise people to be aware of their surroundings while recreating.” Visitors should avoid contact with oil.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

All of the Gulf Islands National Seashore sites, which are in Florida and Mississippi, are open, the National Park Service’s website said.

But several spots have been affected by the oil spill, and a public health advisory is in effect parkwide.

“If you see or smell oil in the water or on the beach, avoid contact with water and report it to the nearest lifeguard or park ranger,” the park service’s website said.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

The oil’s biggest impact in Louisiana is on the portion of the coast from the mouth of the Mississippi River extending east, according to a state emergency website.

“Most of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, 70 percent, is unaffected by the oil spill and remains open for commercial and recreational fishing,” according to the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau website.

Grand Isle has closed its public beach, the site said.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that it appears the oil spill in the Gulf is having an effect on travelers’ July 4 plans.

On Priceline’s annual list of top Independence Day destinations, New Orleans, which ranked No. 1 last year, dropped to 26th spot this year. And Destin, Fla., typically a popular Gulf location during July 4, fell off the list entirely.

Each year, Priceline tracks hotel-room purchases over the holiday weekend, using data from its “name your own price” services, for which travelers must prepay their hotel reservation. The most-popular destinations this year are the Millennium Park, Loop & Grant Park area in Chicago, Downtown St. Louis, Mo., the Harbor Front and Aquarium neighborhood in Boston, the southern downtown area of Toronto, and the North Michigan Avenue and River North area of Chicago. Last year, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Seattle occupied the top five spots.

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