On the 20 June 2014, Pensacola was the recipient of yet another 'present' from the oil-filled Gulf of Mexico - a 1000-pound tar mat washed up in Ft. Pickens Park. Tar balls wash up almost every day along the coast between Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens, but sometimes a large mat is uncovered by waves. Photo: Sea Shepherd

By Dan Haefner, First Mate, RV Odyssey
6 July 2014

(Sea Shepherd) – On the 20th of June, Pensacola was the recipient of yet another “present” from the oil-filled Gulf of Mexico - a 1000-pound tar mat washed up in Ft. Pickens Park. Tar balls wash up almost every day along the coast between Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens, but sometimes a large mat is uncovered by waves. 

I started the day as I like to spend most of my days in port, walking the beaches of Ft. Pickens. As a local Pensacolian, I feel a special connection to the beaches there. It has been a place of fond memories: I camped there as a Boy Scout when I was young; I learned to surf at one of the parking lot beaches when I was 15; I created a national science fair project there in high school that won many awards. I still go there as one of my favorite recreational outings. It was on one of these outings that I spotted a few Coast Guard workers digging up a tar mat and I immediately called my friends aboard the RV Odyssey into action. I wanted to show my crewmates how much tar actually comes up from one of these. I Usually, they are scooped up and forgotten all too quickly. Most people have been brainwashed into believing that the Gulf is clean, our beaches are clean and the seafood is safe to eat. As a local, it was important for me to share the truth.

My question is: if our beaches are clean, why do we have 1,400-pound tar mats washing up each time a swell picks up? One of my biggest concerns, being talked about by very few people, is bacteria. Vibrio Vulnificus is a flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in tar balls, as proven by Auburn University. We know these tar mats are there, so why has nothing been done about them up until now? I have lived in Pensacola for all of my adult life and when people tell me there have been tar balls for years I look at them in astonishment; if they have been here that long, then why have you done nothing about it?

I joined the Odyssey crew a year ago with the hope of seeing whales and more of the Gulf than I have ever seen before. What I got was a shock that a body of water could be so polluted with trash and contaminants. I learned that I never, ever want to swim in the Gulf again, and I grew up on these beaches. We have done a horrible job as Americans of taking care of our natural resources. The Gulf of Mexico is filled with our waste and we have done nothing but stand by and watch as it becomes increasingly destroyed by ourselves and by corporations that rape the sea floor for everything it’s worth, from overfishing to oil exploitation. 

I, for one, will take a stand and tell everyone I know that the Gulf shouldn’t be forgotten now that the oil spill is no longer in the headlines, that Gulf seafood isn’t safe and that the beaches are unclean. Instead of pumping millions of dollars into ad campaigns, why not just find a solution? We will all pay the price, in the end, for this horrible accident that is too soon being forgotten.

New 1,000-Pound Tar Mat Washes Up in Pensacola

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