CLEARWATER — Pinellas County officials and the U.S. Coast Guard began preparing over the weekend in case the oil spill hits area beaches.
The Coast Guard, which has vessels equipped to respond to the spill, will be the lead agency on any plan. It has begun counting its boom inventory.
County Administrator Bob LaSala said preparations are being made to make sure the beaches don't have items on them that would make a cleanup more difficult. Officials are also working with the tourist industry because "if this hits coastal Florida, in the minds of the public, it's the entire coast of Florida," LaSala said.
The Coast Guard, the county, and environmental groups were to meet Tuesday morning.
USF sends boat
A large University of South Florida research vessel was en route to the spill site Tuesday morning to collect data on the oil's impact on plankton.
A handful of researchers will spend eight to 10 days studying the effects on the marine life food web as the spill spreads.
Researchers hope to share their findings, said USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere. The mission is jointly backed by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
BP would pay more
Sen. Bill Nelson has joined a Capitol Hill push that would force BP to pay substantially more in damages for the oil spill. The Florida Democrat is co-sponsoring legislation that would increase a $75 million cap for economic damages to $10 billion.
The bill, called the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, was introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats of New Jersey. "BP says it'll pay for this mess. Baloney," Nelson said in a news release. "They're not going to want to pay any more than what the law says they have to, which is why we can't let them off the hook."
Groups need help
The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores is looking for volunteers and donations of linens, kennels, towels, sheets, Dawn dish detergent, Pepto-Bismol and toothbrushes to rescue injured birds and clean the coast. The sanctuary is at 18328 Gulf Blvd. It is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. See seabirdsanctuary.com or call (727) 391-6211 for information, or e-mail email@example.com.
Florida Audubon has set up a clearinghouse for volunteers and donations. It also includes some political action and petitions focusing on policy.
Save Our Seabirds, in Sarasota, which says it has has an 85 percent rescue rate for oil-slicked seabirds, is taking donations and packing to leave for the Florida Panhandle (and taking any volunteers who want to come along). There is a Paypal account for donations on saveourseabirds.org, and the group seeks clipboards, sheets, towels, rubber gloves, Dawn dishwashing liquid and many other items. The website has a wish list to check.
Meanwhile, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium stands ready to help. "We have the ability to take in numerous sea turtles if need be," said Danielle O'Neil, manager of the aquarium's sea turtle program. "We have a brand-new sea turtle rehabilitation area in our back yard." Sea turtles, birds and manatees are in the most danger, she said, because they spend more time on the surface than dolphins and whales do. The aquarium has created an emergency fund to care for animals injured by the oil spill.
Information compiled by staff writers Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Emily Nipps.