Florida Legislators angry over halted beach cleanups

Workers clean oil from a Pensacola beach on June 23rd.

Legislators complained Friday that oil spill clean up workers are being kept off beaches because there are not enough workers who are specifically trained to watch out for sea turtles.

During a telephone conference call with Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole, Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, said workers from Bay County were driven to Destin to clean up oil on beaches but they were unable to work for three nights. Sole confirmed they were unable to work because there are not enough permitted turtle-watchers to accompany the workers at night.

The watchers are needed to spot endangered and threatened sea turtles to prevent them from being stepped on or run over by equipment, Sole said. The watchers also are needed to find turtle tracks leading to nests that need to be identified and protected so the eggs can be moved away from areas affected by the oil spill.

Coley, R-Marianna, said she hated to see a lack of turtle-watchers allow beaches to become soaked with oil. Sole said the state is trying to get more permitted turtle-watchers while not taking them from other parts of the state where they are needed.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, accused Sole of allowing the lack of turtle-watchers to wreck the state’s tourism economy. “I want you to go out and tell those small business people and tell those communities and other environmentalists that everything dies because we don’t have turtle-watchers,” she said.

Sole said that wasn’t true while adding that he also had raised frustrations with the Coast Guard and BP. “It is a problem, it has been identified and they need to fix it,” he said. He also promised to followup by providing information on the situation to legislators.

The federal unified command announced Friday that it was trying to build a network of observers to protect turtles from oil-burning operations.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley. Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)