Destin: Holding On Tight To Paradise
An oil-free, drama-free day on the beach in Destin. At least for the beaches near us. That TV news satellite truck I wrote about yesterday, the one that parked in our condo complex lot , left around 10:30 last night. Presumably right after the 10 o’clock news, and presumably to head west of here where some beaches are closed. Here’s a report from firstcoastnews.com:
A six mile stretch of Florida coastline is closed because health officials say there is too much oil in the water.
The closed part of the ocean starts at the Alabama-Florida border, through Perdido Key to Johnson Beach. Tourism leaders say the beach is open, but access to the water is closed.
Also, they caution people with breathing problems to avoid the area due to possible oil smells.
It’s the first closure announced along Florida’s coast; a big development since the state has consistently advertised all their beaches are safe and open.
The vast majority of ocean in Florida is safe from Pensacola Beach to Destin, where people are laying out boom.
Almost daily, the City of Destin puts out an oil spill update. This afternoon’s update had some good with the not so good. Winds are shifting, but tar balls have been washing ashore in some areas. Here’s a portion of the latest update:
Destin’s beaches are OPEN! Current wind directions are pushing any oil in the area away from Okaloosa County. This wind is expected to continue through Friday. A few tar balls have washed ashore, but nothing of any size or significance. Clean-up crews have been very quick to respond to cleaning up the tar balls.
As I’ve noted this week, the threat of oil is hurting the local economy. It’s hit the fishing industry especially hard. I was down at the wharf this evening, and watched Captain Art Smith do some maintenance on his boat, the “Miss Nautica”.
Captain Smith has run a charter fishing business out of Destin for the past 25 years, leaving a successful career in the shuttle industry during the 80’s. Shuttle, as in space shuttle. Our conversation quickly turned from space to sea:
- Me: How’s business?
- Capt. Smith: Oh, the fishing’s great! I just need customers.
- Me: How’s it this year, compared to last?
- Capt. Smith: I’m down 60% over a year ago.
- Me: 60%?
- Capt. Smith: Yeah, that hurts.
Like many of the others I’ve talked to whose business is hurting from the oil spill, Capt. Smith is making up a lot of what he’s lost from an unlikely source… British Petroleum. When tourists don’t pay him to fish, he’s paid by BP to launch the “Nautica” to fish for oil slicks and globs and sheens and tar balls out in the Gulf. Not exactly what he had in mind when he started his charter business a quarter century ago, but it helps pay the bills.
Much of the fish unloaded on the docks along the wharf end up in seafood restaurants like Dewey Destin, which sits right on the harbor.
When we came down here last year, long-time locals and savvy tourists alike said eating here is a must-do experience. They warned us the place is weathered, rustic, and run-down looking. All part of the old-fashioned Panhandle charm. We were also warned that we’d have to wait in a long line and sit on old wooden bench tables for the privilege to taste the succulent gulf coast shrimp, tuna, scallops, crab, grouper and mahi mahi. They were right. Last year at this time, the line was an hour long, and the fish was fantastic. This evening, dinner was equally superb, but the wait was only 5 minutes. The result of tourists scared away by the threat of tar balls on the beach? I really don’t know. Maybe we just showed up on a unusually slow evening.
What businesses like Dewey Destin, and Capt. Smith’s charter service, and the beach rental guy I met yesterday, really need to survive are tourist dollars. They’re certainly getting our fair share this week. At our condo, Walmart, local gas stations, and on the beach. Yesterday, our teenagers went parasailing.
Today, they rented surf boards. Watching these Oklahomans ride the waves wasn’t always pretty, but it’s money well spent to help keep a bit of paradise in business.