• Frequently Asked Questions
    Gulf Oil Spill | Deepwater Horizon

    Is Miami Beach in imminent danger of being affected by the oil spill?
    According to experts, including scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), current conditions in the Gulf indicate that in the time it would take for any oil to travel to the vicinity of Miami-Dade County, it would be highly weathered and both the natural process of evaporation and application of dispersants would reduce any oil volume significantly. It is still unclear whether the weathered oil would actually arrive in South Florida or bypass the area and remain either in the “Loop Current” or the Gulf Stream.

    What is the Loop Current?
    The Gulf Loop Current is a clockwise current that carries water from the Yucatan Channel north into the Gulf of Mexico, then back down south off the Florida west coast, past the Dry Tortugas and into the Gulf Stream, also known as the Florida Current.

    Is it true that oil will definitely hit South Florida?
    It is still unknown what, if any, effect, the oil spill will have on South Florida. Even if there was an impact, NOAA and other officials say the kind of impact South Florida and other areas on the east coast might experience would be much different than what is transpiring in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Most oil spill experts say any oil carried by the Loop Current would be more dispersed and highly weathered by the time it gets to the South Florida. If this were to occur, the weathered and diluted oil would likely appear in isolated locations in the form of tar balls. While arrival of oil in any form is unacceptable, tar balls are “significantly less toxic,” according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole. It is also possible that one area in South Florida could be affected and others not, or that the oil residues could remain in the Loop Current and Gulf Stream and completely miss Miami-Dade.

    What is a tar ball?
    A tar ball is a blob of oil that has been weathered after floating in the ocean. Tar ball concentration and features have been used to assess the extent of oil spills and their composition can also be used to identify their sources of origin. They are slowly decomposed by microorganisms. While not dangerous to most people, tar balls can cause an allergic reaction and should only be retrieved by trained personnel. Tar balls can sometimes occur naturally and as such are not always associated with oil spills. If you grew up in South Florida, then you are likely familiar with tar balls.

    Have any tar balls been found on Miami Beach from the Gulf oil spill? What about the oil tar balls that were recently found in Key West and other parts of the Keys? 
    No tar balls from the Gulf oil spill have been reported on our beaches. The U.S. Coast Guard tested the tar balls found in Key West and found that none were from the Gulf oil spill. Finding tar balls in the Keys waters or on our area beaches is not an unusual occurrence because our coastline is located along a busy commercial shipping route, with some 8,000 vessels passing by on an annual basis, and commercial vessels sometimes discharge bilge water that has oil in it. Tar balls can drift into local waters from many other areas, not just the northern Gulf region.

    Is it safe to dive, swim and participate in other water sports?
    There are no advisories in Miami-Dade currently in effect due to the Gulf oil spill. The Miami-Dade County Health Department is monitoring our waters on a constant basis and would issue an advisory in the event of any health-related risk.

    What do I do if I find a tar ball?
    While it is unlikely that any tar ball found on our beach at this time came from the Gulf oil spill, you should report any tar balls you might find so that they can properly tested to determine their origin. To report a tar ball, call 866.448.5816.

    What protective actions are being taken to safeguard the environment, if needed?
    The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead government agency responsible for oversight of any necessary cleanup and remediation activities. The City is working with the Coast Guard and other local, state and federal authorities on the comprehensive, 725-page area contingency plan that includes oil spill response actions, should they be necessary. Other agencies involved include NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of the Interior, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Monroe County Emergency Management. Cleanup crews have been mobilized to mitigate tar balls, or any other unexpected effects – should they be necessary. Currently, no protective actions are interrupting water- or land-related visitor activities.

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