(*Scroll down for photos of Gulf Coast fishermen and their mitigation efforts underway.*)
The AP reports:
More than 6,800 square miles of federal fishing areas, from the mouth of the Mississippi to Florida's Pensacola Bay were closed for at least 10 days on Sunday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco says government scientists are taking samples from the waters near the spill to determine whether there is any danger. [...]
Even if the well is shut off in a week, fishermen and wildlife officials wonder how long it will take for the gulf to recover. Some compare it to the hurricane Louisiana is still recovering from after nearly five years. "It's like a slow version of Katrina," Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney said. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age." [...]
"None of us have ever had experience at this level before. It ain't good," said Bob Love, coastal and nongame resources administrator with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "The longer it goes, the more fish and wildlife impacts there will be."
Even if the oil stays mostly offshore, the consequences could be dire for sea turtles, dolphins and other deepwater marine life - and microscopic plankton and tiny creatures that are a staple of larger animals' diets.
It appears likely that the gulf stream picks up the oil and carries it to Florida:
And the situation could become far more grave if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida - and potentially loops around the state's southern tip and up the eastern seaboard. Prime fishing waters, pristine beaches and countless wildlife could be ruined.
"It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."
A Mississippi fisherman shared a dire assessment:
In Pass Christian, Miss., 61-year-old Jimmy Rowell, a third-generation shrimp and oyster fisherman, worked on his boat at the harbor and stared out at the choppy waters. "It's over for us. If this oil comes ashore, it's just over for us," Rowell said angrily, rubbing his forehead. "Nobody wants no oily shrimp."
Some Gulf coast residents and fisherman are critical of BP's efforts thus far:
"No, I'm not happy with the protection, but I'm sure the oil company is saving money," said 57-year-old Raymond Schmitt, in Venice preparing his boat to take a French television crew on a tour.
Unable to fish for now, fishermen have been enlisted in the herculean task of deploying oil booms throughout threatened waters (see photos below):
They have been dropping miles of inflatable, oil-capturing boom around the region's fragile wetlands and prime fishing areas. Bad weather, however, was thwarting much of the work; Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said 80 percent of the booms laid down off his state over the previous three days had broken down. He said boom along other coasts is breaking down also.
And dead sea turtles washing up on gulf coast shores (see photos below) are an ominous sign of the possible extent of the contamination:
Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., said at least 20 dead sea turtles were found on the state's beaches. He said it's too soon to say whether oil contamination killed them but that it is unusual to have them turning up across such a wide stretch of coast, spanning nearly 30 miles.
None of the turtles have oil on them, but Solangi said they could have ingested oily fish or breathed in oil on the surface. Necropsies will be performed Monday.