Beach Week: Walking Alabama Beaches

Beach Week: Walking Alabama Beaches

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ORANGE BEACH, Alabama -

Every day at the beach is different. The waves, the currents, the wind, shape what you see.

We began our eight mile walk at the Alabama-Florida line heading west. Ten minutes into our journey, our first tar ball.

A lot of folks walk the beach unaware of what still rolls around in the surf or finds it's way onshore. "I don't think a tar ball with sand and shells in it is going to affect my health or me enjoying the beach at all," says Jean Stohldrier vacationing with her family from Ohio. Instead they become a teaching tool, a history lesson for her little boy.

We leave one family vacation and head down an open stretch of beach checking each patch of shells for any signs of oil as the first mile goes by.. Any tar ball brings back bad memories for Billie Worthern. "It was really frightening for people that love the beach. It was very sad." In the last three years she's seen a difference. "I feel like hopefully they've really done their job as far as the environment is concerned and I guess you just have to be trustworthy that they have made everything as it should be."

Through most of the first part of our walk and the thing that is most encouraging tar balls seem to be harder to find.

"We look for tar everyday," Four miles later, we catch up with Orange Beach marine resource manager Phillip West. He's picked up his on reminders of the spill. For him, things have changed in the last three years. "Our daily routine has added one more element and that is looking for remnant tar or tar that washes up periodically." He believes oil is still in the water, buried. "It just stands to reason when the same places over and over again that is probably coming from some sort of offshore mat that is being uncovered."

Underwater in the surf zone it's easy to see how oil could be buried. Even with the smallest of waves, shells and sand are tossed around in a storm of activity.

The beaches in Orange Beach have been rebuilt since the oil spill back in 2010. The sand you see now on the beaches wasn't there three years ago.

"The beaches look great to a large degree things are back to normal." The amount of oil believed buried off shore is still unknown and so are the consequences according to Auburn professor Joel Hayward, "the concern is what does this mean ecologically to the very small organisms that live in these spaces and really can't get away and then what does that mean over a very long period of time? What kind of changes is that going to propagate through the beach bacterial eco-system and then up the food chain?"

As we end our walk, beachcombers check out shell washes and pick out souvenirs. Among the shells, another tar ball that finds it's way into Jerri Lyn Emmitt's collection. "They probably don't want to see those here but 'yeah their trying to get rid of those' I don't blame em, I'm gonna take it away for em."

Fewer tar balls are on the beaches, at least today. What happens tomorrow? Only the tide will tell.

So here's the bottom line for the eight miles of beach we walked from the state line to State Park Road 2:  This 8 mile stretch looked excellent overall. We found relatively few tar balls and as for a grade we would say it gets - an A+ considering what happened 3 years ago.

 

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