Gulf oil spill unlikely to hurt Ga. coast

Georgia's coastline and the critical swath of estuaries it protects are unlikely to face direct impacts from the broadening Gulf oil spill.

"It's a long shot-and it would take the perfect storm of circumstances for oil to end up all the way on Georgia's coast," said marine biologist Spud Woodward, director of Georgia's Coastal Resources Division. "But we are definitely watching it."

As millions of gallons oil continue to flow from the well that exploded April 20 off the Louisiana coast, concerns are mounting that the slick could be pushed by the Gulf of Mexico's loop currents into the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf Stream.

Georgia's 100-mile-long coast, with 400,000 acres of estuaries, is 60 to 70 miles from the Gulf Stream, Woodward said, and it would require a rare and unlucky combination of sustained easterly winds to push any pollutants so far inland.

"We do occasionally have those winds, so we don't put it out of the realm of possibility," he said. "But it would require a huge volume of oil and a heck of a coincidence."

State officials are continuing to monitor the disaster-just in case.

"We're definitely watching it, and getting daily updates with satellite imagery" he said. "We've already written a briefing document for the DNR commissioner and had some conference calls with the Coast Guard."

Georgia's coast includes about one-third of the remaining estuaries in the eastern U.S. Those marshes serve as a nursery for marine life, both inshore and offshore. Estuaries also help filter pollution from river basins that drain much of the state.

In the Gulf, the spill's impact now stretches across 150 miles, from Dauphin Island, Ala. to Grand Isle, La., according to The Associated Press.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com

 

 

GEORGIA ESTUARIES

What is an estuary? The part of the lower course of a river where the current meets the sea's tide. It is also an arm of the sea that extends inland to meet the mouth of a river.

Acreage: 400,000, with 2,700 miles of creeks and channels

Rivers: Savannah, Ogeechee, Satilla, St. Marys and Altamaha

Purposes: incubator for marine life; buffer to hurricanes

Threats: pollution from inland cities, silt, development, disease

Commercial uses: blue crabs, shrimp, shellfish

Recreational uses: boating, sportfishing, tourism

Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

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