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BP Oil Spill Affects Boating Activities Along Northern Gulf Coast By Julie Connerley


he April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster marked the beginning of the worst oil-related catastrophe our nation has witnessed. The blast killed 11 employees. The total loss of wildlife, wildlife habitat, ecosystems, livelihoods, family units, and even culture, will not be known for years—even as oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico from a blown-out undersea well. On April 29, oil reached Louisiana’s coast. By June 4, headlines announced tar balls had reached the “world’s whitest sand” of Pensacola Beach. The weeks leading up to the inevitable were filled with cancellations of beach hotel bookings and a slowdown in pre-summer business. John R. Ehrenreich has owned Bonifay Watersports since 1975. The family-oriented business includes Jet Ski rentals, parasail flights, a mini-golf course and go-cart track. It is situated on the Intracoastal side of Pensacola Beach (Santa Rosa Island) known as the Sound. “By this time of year,” said Ehrenreich, “I should be

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July 2010


swapping out some of the Jet Skis for newer models. Business is slower than normal. It is a beautiful June day, the water temperature is 80 degrees, but few people are renting. It almost looks like the beginning of the winter season!” And he wasn’t alone. Sailboat rentals and charter boat captains have seen their businesses sink since the disaster also. Bluewater charter boats, like the Miss Marisa, a 46-foot sport fishing boat, owned by Capt. Mike Newell, 63, were effectively “out of business” as soon as federal waters were closed by the oil situation. “My charters fish blue marlin 30 to 100 miles out,” Newell began. “That’s federal waters.“ I lost 70 percent of my bookings in May, and all in June. I filed a claim with BP. Then they opened up a Vessel of Opportunity program, but it seemed like all the jobs went to folks who already had jobs— not the out-of-work charter boat captains. “Then BP got more organized and now I have a 60-day contract for my boat and my two hands to take environmental folks out to gather water samples. I think the Gulf is ruined for the remainder of my lifetime. Money isn’t the issue anymore; we’ve lost our livelihoods.” Fishing tournaments have been “caught” by the oil spill as well. The June 5-6 Queen of Kings Women’s King Mackerel Tournament was cancelled (and optimistically reset for September 17-18). The Outcast Family Fishing Rodeo, originally planned for June 11 was also canceled. Long-time favorite, the Bud Light King Mackerel Tournament, planned for June 26, was nixed, but its sister event, the Shallow Water Slam, is still expected to proceed as of press time. For sailors all along the Gulf Coast, the oil spill timing could not have been worse. The offshore Gulfport to Pensacola race, sponsored by the Southern Yacht Club since 1949, was set for June 11. Commodore J. Dwight LeBlanc, III, made the announcement June 9, “…with deep regret and disappointment after reviewing the forecasts and projections of surface oil as well as notices from the U.S. Coast Guard and other regulatory authorities.” Only 13 yachts had confirmed plans to participate, and possible closure of entrances to marinas in the Pensacola Bay area by the U.S. Coast Guard also contributed to LeBlanc’s decision. Pensacola Yacht Club is hosting this year’s Gulf Yachting Association’s Challenge Cup June 18-20. As of press time, PYC was still forging ahead with plans for a successful GYA inter-club regatta. Pensacola Bay yacht clubs have 23 more regattas after the Challenge Cup this year—some women only, others national championships. Sailors, recreational and commercial anglers, tourists, and residents alike will be watching BP closely as the company continues to deal with the aftermath. We can only