MIAMI — A new computer model shows oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill has as high as an 80 percent chance of reaching the Florida Keys and Miami.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the forecast Friday. It shows a 61 to 80 percent chance of sheen, tar balls or other oil remnants coming within 20 miles of Florida's eastern coast, from the Keys north to the Fort Lauderdale area, by Aug. 18.
Outside those areas and the Florida Panhandle, which has already seen beaches littered with tar balls, other areas show a low probability of oil. The state's western coast has a 20 percent chance or lower of seeing oil, and parts of southwest Florida have less than a 1 percent chance.
Blue crabs are dotted with oil drops
NEW ORLEANS — Oil droplets are turning up on tiny blue crabs in the Gulf of Mexico that are prey to many fish and are important indicators of the ecosystem's overall health, scientists said Friday.
The orange spots have been detected in crabs across the northern Gulf Coast, from southwestern Louisiana to Pensacola.
"In my 42 years of studying crabs I've never seen this," said Harriet Perry, a biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
Perry and scientists with Tulane University noticed the blotches while analyzing water and plankton samples during the early stages of research to determine whether the oil is hurting the crabs.
The discovery has implications for the entire gulf food chain because crab larvae are prey for many kinds of fish as well as raccoons and endangered whooping cranes, Perry said.
"They are a keystone species," she said. "If we have a loss of blue crabs, we're looking at a loss of everything."
Coast Guard, BP reach deal to help turtles
The Coast Guard and BP reached a settlement Friday with environmental groups over the issue of how best to guard against accidentally killing endangered sea turtles during controlled burns aimed at curbing the oil spill's spread.
Three environmental groups sued in federal court in New Orleans on Wednesday, charging that oil spill responders had taken inadequate precautions.
Under the settlement, the two sides have agreed the Coast Guard will soon convene a group of scientists to determine how best to ensure that no endangered sea turtles die during controlled burns.
"Sea turtles are already suffering catastrophically from the oil spill and it would be outrageous to add insult to injury by burning them alive in the spill cleanup effort," said Kieran Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity's executive director. "It's a no-brainer to put sea turtle observers on the cleanup boats and whisk the turtles out of the oil pools before they're set on fire."
Tax break plan for those hurt by spill
In Washington, a six-member bipartisan group headed by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on Friday announced a package of tax breaks to help those hurt by the oil spill. They include:
• Tax deferral for small business reimbursements that are reinvested into an oil-spill-area business.
• Hardship access to retirement savings.
• Job creation tax credits in oil spill areas.
• A Gulf Coast hotel tax holiday on hotels and car rentals.
"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill gives us great concern for the future of our state economies," they wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.