The pristine beauty of Anna Maria Island’s beautiful clean white-sand beaches is something that thousands of local people and visitors care very much about. Although the oil spill occurred almost 400 miles from our beaches, and although there is no oil near our shores, it is worth being prepared to act in case the oil comes our way.
On Thursday evening, June 17, islanders concerned about the oil in the Gulf gathered in large numbers at the Anna Maria Island Community Center at 407 Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria. The streets around the center were lined with parked cars, and the crowd of hundreds filled the gymnasium, including the bleachers.
A large panel of speakers and representatives of various public and private organizations sat at a long table. A big projector screen showed the face of the speaker as well as slide presentations throughout the evening.
The event was organized by a new group called Keep OFF Manatee. The “OFF” stands for Oil Free Forever. Mike Shannon, manager of the Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach, is the founder of the organization and he gave the opening remarks. After sharing his sentimental feelings about the beauty of the birds on the beach and the obligation of everyone to save them for future generations, Shannon turned over the microphone to Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore. Whitmore said very complimentary things as she introduced all the other speakers, who included State Representative Bill Galvano, local Emergency Management Chief Laurie Feagans, Director of the Natural Resource Division Charlie Hunsicker, and Dr. Rich Pierce of Mote Marine Laboratories.
The point was made repeatedly that the meeting was not a place for finger pointing or blame. It seemed to be an opportunity for organizational structure and contact information to be disseminated and described.
Much information was provided in handouts, which included the following:
- An Oil Spill Reporting Guide
- MOTE NEWS, a newsletter from Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium
- A Toxic Air from Oil Spill information sheet
- A letter from Clean Water Network of Florida, in Tallahassee describing Senator Nelson’s briefing in which the Coastguard’s response to the oil disaster is described as “dysfunctional.” Coastal residents are asked to make their local governments be prepared.
- A list of Problems with Oil Spill Response, referring to dispersant toxicity, lack of skimmers, media blockade, health hazards and the blocking of volunteers from helping with wildlife rescue
- An information sheet on the Media Blockade
- An information sheet on Crude Oil and Your Health
- A warning sheet on Deadly, Toxic Dispersants
- A citizen’s alert on Wildlife Rescue
- A 50-page report by Sciencecorps, in Lexington, Mass., titled Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards
It is clear that the residents of Anna Maria Island hope the oil spill will never reach the island’s beaches and bays, but it if does, the effort to reduce its impact has begun.