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BP oil spill study


OKALOOSA COUNTY - In the summer of 2010, all eyes were on the Gulf as the massive BP oil spill made its way toward Northwest Florida. Now, a major study on the path of oil spills is going on in Okaloosa County.

"If you come for a beach walk at Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island, you'll notice a couple of new signs, warning of submerged objects. It's equipment for a University of Miami study on the paths of oil spills."

They call themselves surf zone scientists. The tools of their trade include rows of pipe, stretching from the shoreline to measure waves, currents and temperature. Near East Pass, they released GPS drifters that will help study how the currents move down the beach.

Dr. Ad Reniers/U of Miami  "If you have oil offshore, how does it get into the surf zone, and how does it end up on the beach. That is what we're trying to figure out."

The next step will be to put bright purple temporary dye in the water, to look at how substances spread and mix in the surf.

Dr. Jamie MacMahan/Naval Postgraduate School "We're going to have dye sensors in the water, we're going to have wave-runners, swimmers, boats offshore, and we have little remote helicopters that will be hovering above with go-pro cameras."

Remembering the BP oil spill is like reliving a nightmare for David Baxter. His store, One Feather Indian Art, depends on tourists.

David Baxer "We lost, downtown that year, ten stores. For that hundred days of summer, nobody came."   

The study can't prevent another spill. But the scientists say their data will help build better prediction models. If a spill comes again, they'll be able to answer questions like where, how soon, and how to direct resources to best protect the shoreline.

Dr. Ad Reniers "If we can help the first responders to put their efforts where it's really going to make a difference, then we have done our job."

David  Baxter"Anything that can help with a disaster. Which is, that's what it was, a disaster."

In addition to oil spill tracks, the study will also help us learn more about local rip currents, information that could be helpful in providing better beach safety."

Some of the buoys are washing ashore in Okaloosa County. They have red and white tops, black bottoms and orange flags. If you find one, you're asked to call the number on the buoy, so researchers can pick it up.