Ever go to the beach and not think of slapping together a sand castle? And who doesn't enjoy the feeling of wet, warm sand between her toes?
According to federal authorities who recently intercepted an oil-hunting reporter on a Florida beach, those activities have been deemed "illegal."
The officers' legal revelation (which is not actually true) came as something of a surprise to Dan Thomas, reporter for WEAR ABC 3 in Pensacola, Florida, who was visiting the Gulf Islands National Seashore for a special report.
Shovel men at the ready, it did not take Thomas long to uncover splotches of oily crude less than a foot below the surface. Within seconds, his report had shown that BP's cleanup efforts, which have been limited to just the top six inches of sand in most cases, are not entirely effective.
That's when a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed up, demanding he produce a permit to use shovels on a public beach.
"Are you digging for oil product?" the official asked. When Thomas did not immediately confirm his intentions, the man threatened to call law enforcement and advised the journalist to move down the beach.
Moments later, an officer of the National Parks Service was demanding the reporter identify himself, insisting over and over, "you can't dig."
"So, no sand castles?" Thomas asked. "None of that, huh?"
"You're right," the officer replied.
BP has since August been deploying its so-called "Sand Shark" machine to beaches around Florida and Louisiana. The device is capable of burrowing 18-inches into the sand and sifting oil particles out at the rate of dozens of tons per hour.
However, the Department of the Interior stands in the way, as digging deeper than six inches requires a waiver from the agency.
"It's an archaeological issue. [...] The cleanup might disturb cultural sites protected by the national historic preservation act," a BP spokesman told the Pensacola News Journal.
But even at 18 inches, that's not enough. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster has permeated beaches and the Gulf seabed.
"Judy Haner, a marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy, favors deep-cleaning because the sand is home to small creatures like sand fleas, which form the base of the coastal food chain," the Associated Press reported. "They're the ones exposed to (oil) every tidal cycle, and they're living in the sand," she said. "It's the bioaccumulation up the chain that is problematic."
BP has previously been accused of burying oil-coated beaches with clean sand shipped in from other locations, but conclusive evidence proving the claim have yet to surface.
Despite what officers told the ABC reporter, it is not illegal to build sand castles on beaches in Florida -- but you're still likely to get the runaround if you've got a camera crew in-tow.
And finally, despite the presence of oil down below, many of Florida's beaches are mostly clean, at least on the surface.
Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, the US pointman for the response to the disaster, said Sunday that the operation to intersect and cement BP's blown out oil well had been completed successfully.
"Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico," he said.
This video is from WEAR ABC 7 in Florida, broadcast Sept. 18, 2010.
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