FLORIDA KEYS — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has suspended daily production of offshore Transocean/BP oil spill trajectory maps because a change in ocean currents has minimized impact risks to the Florida Keys and most of the Florida peninsula.

According to Billy Causey, superintendent of the southeast region for NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, the northern end of the Loop Current has been pinched off into a large clockwise eddy called Eddy Franklin. Thus, there is no clear path for spilled oil to enter the Loop Current from the spill source in the northern Gulf of Mexico that is about 500 miles northwest of Key West.

The Gulf Loop Current is a clockwise current that normally carries water from the Yucatan Channel north into the Gulf of Mexico, then back down south off Florida’s west coast, past the Dry Tortugas and into the Gulf Stream.

NOAA is not certain how long the separation will last. The agency plans to resume production of offshore spill trajectory maps if needed.

If conditions change and any of the oil does make it to the vicinity of the Florida Straits — the body of water between Cuba and the Keys — it should be weathered and appear in the form of tar balls, Causey said, and not the thick aqueous oil being seen in the northern Gulf of Mexico near the spill site. He said it is not known if the tar balls would end up in Keys nearshore waters, on coastlines or float by in deeper water.

There have been no physical impacts on the Keys from the Transocean/BP spill, according to Captain Pat DeQuattro, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West. Of some 60 tar balls recovered on Keys shorelines since May 19, none were from the spill site, DeQuattro said.

Meanwhile, the Florida Keys tourism council continues efforts to communicate accurately on the situation in the Florida Keys. The tourism council’s website at www.fla-keys.com features NOAA information as well as live webcams and weekly videos that show the current status of Keys tourism offerings.

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