GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE, Fla. -- Waves of gooey tar blobs were washing ashore on the white sand of the Florida Panhandle and nearby Alabama beaches Friday as a slick from the BP spill moved closer to shore.
Spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number starting before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.
Keith Wilkins from Escambia County emergency management said tar patties were are pretty thick on parts of the beach, as much as one every foot.
Small gobs of reddish brown oil washed up in the surf for the first time in nearby Gulf Shores, Ala., on Friday morning and a petroleum smell tinged the air.
Sam Champion from Good Morning America was in Pensacola Friday morning and picked up globs of tar off of the famously white beaches.
Officials have said it is inevitable oil will eventually wash up on Panhandle beaches after a slick from the Deepwater Horizon spill was spotted about 9 miles offshore this week. The edge of the spill had moved to four miles off the coast Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist said after a flyover.
Crist said the news of Friday's growth in tar balls was "very disturbing."
"Obviously, it's not the kind of news that we want to hear," Crist said on CNN's "American Morning."
The researchers project the oil to spread up to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina before turning east towards Europe, but officials as far north as New Jersey are developing spill contingencies.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., the goo was isolated to a few areas, but a faint smell of oil hung in the breeze.
"I really smelled it down there," said Jennifer Powell, combing the beach for shells with her husband. "It was like it was burning my nose a little bit."
The Powells, from Russellville, Ky., had planned to return to the beach later this summer, but now they're not sure they want to come back.
"You won't be able to get in the water, and it's going to get all over you and all," she said. "I don't think I want my kids in that."
Cleanup crews were nowhere to be seen at the public beach.