First family to visit PC Beach; Oil spill research grants awarded

The White House on Thursday gave more details about the pending visit of President Barack Obama and his family to Panama City Beach.

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to Panama City Beach on Saturday and will join area small business owners, elected officials and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for a roundtable discussion on the BP oil spill recovery. The family will leave on Sunday.

Area officials say tourism has suffered because of negative images of oil washing ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The first lady visited Panama City Beach on July 13 and urged Americans to visit the Gulf to support struggling businesses.

Also Thursday, the Florida Institute of Oceanography awarded 27 grants from $10 million provided by BP for research into effects of the oil spill, which began in April. FIO is a consortium of public and private marine science centers and institutes in Florida.

Researchers will examine the effects of the oil and dispersants on reefs, corals and salt marshes along with examining how coastal and marine food webs, from plankton to sharks, have fared in the disaster, according to a statement from FIO.

Other research efforts will focus on oyster habitats, the impact on the bottlenose dolphin population in Panhandle waters and the status of diatoms and nanoplankton which make up the base of the Gulf food web. One joint project by the University of South Florida, Florida State University and the University of Miami will seek to establish a coordinated approach to oil spill tracking.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting