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Oil Washes Up on Florida Beaches

August 10, 2000

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) _ U.S. Coast Guard investigators boarded ships Wednesday in Miami and Port Everglades, trying to determine which crew dumped oil off the South Florida coast, creating the area’s worst oil spill in at least a decade.

The oil contaminated 15 miles of beach. It has not injured any wildlife but the long-term environmental effects are undetermined, Coast Guard Commander Richard Ferraro said.

Some endangered and threatened sea turtles are about to hatch, and oily debris block their path to the ocean.

Some beaches reopened to swimming Wednesday after officials determined the oil is not too toxic. All beaches along the 15-mile stretch were closed Tuesday when the oil was discovered.

Coast Guard investigators took oil samples from about a dozen recently arrived ships to try to match its chemical composition to the dumped oil.

``Every oil has a unique fingerprint,″ said Brad Benggio, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. For example, he said traces of nickel and other metals found in a ship’s oil could match quantities in the oil that was spilled.

If the investigation identifies any suspects, the crew and the ship’s owner could face criminal prosecution.

Numerous volunteers came Wednesday to John U. Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area near Hollywood to clear oil-covered seaweed from sand where thousands of green and loggerhead sea turtles are about to hatch.

About 50 nests, each containing about 110 eggs, are expected to hatch within the next week, with another 150 nests expected to hatch in the next month. The mothers buried the eggs in sand about 20 yards from the water.

Park officials fear the turtles could get stuck in the gooey seaweed and die. Green turtles are an endangered species, while loggerheads are threatened, meaning their possible extinction is slightly less imminent.

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