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University researchers say Keys, Tortugas are oil free

ST. PETERSBURG — A group of researchers fresh off a research cruise around the Gulf of Mexico announced Monday that oil has not reached the Florida Keys.

"The whole section is quite nice," said Stephen Wood, an ocean engineering professor with the Florida Institute of Technology who led the two-week trip aboard the University of South Florida's Weatherbird II.

The Melbourne-based team of graduate and undergraduate students traveled from the docks of USF's College of Marine Science to the Keys, Dry Tortugas and about 150 miles off the coast of Fort Myers. Divided into four teams, the students spent about three nights on the research vessel, Wood said. They took water samples throughout the trip but found no evidence of tar balls, surface oil or subsurface hydrocarbons.

Scientists had predicted for weeks that the Keys would be among the first places to see traces of oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, thanks to the gulf's loop current. The current, part of the Gulf Stream, transports water from the Yucatan Channel to the north central gulf and back south to the Florida Straits.

The FIT trip had been planned about a year as a way to give students a taste of marine field work, required for their major.

Wood tweaked the team's mission when the wellhead started spewing oil. The researchers said they were grateful that part of the trip was uneventful.

$1.6 billion

Amount BP said it has paid so far because of its oil spill. That includes new $25 million grants to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. It also includes the first $60 million for a project to build barrier islands off the Louisiana coast. The estimate does not include future costs for scores of lawsuits already filed.

University researchers say Keys, Tortugas are oil free 06/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 10:35pm]
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