We slowly travel west towards Pensacola looking for signs of oil. Every orange boom on the water, every bit of dirt in the sand make us think it's there.
But beaches are clean as far as Panama City and the increasing number of for sale signs and foreclosures belongs to another man made disaster: collapse of the real estate bubble.
We check out every beach afraid it may be the last oil-free one. At the local restaurants we are told to enjoy our oysters while they last. It's like everyone is aware of some biblical disaster looming around the corner. We do find something on Miramar Beach. There is a notice that the beach has been affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and swimming may be hazardous to your health. Nobody pays any attention to that. No tar balls or oil sheen in sight. As everywhere else parents let small children bathe, teenagers try paddle boards, retirees sit on half-submerged beach chairs.
We see a different type of damage: trampled, receding dunes. Preservation attempts are marked by signs: dune restoration project and stay off dunes posted on the backdrop of multi-story beach resorts. Real restoration effort would start off by destroying those vacation high-rises. But there is hope. Great quantities the oil may wash on those beaches, the resorts will empty and crumble and dunes will reclaim the sand.
Hurricanes are already doing a great job to that end eroding beaches that people foolishly built houses on.
At Naval Air Station, Pensacola we come by a beach that is closed to the public and scoured by crews bagging what looks like gallons of white sand into plastic bags. Either they have done an outstanding job already or BP is being taken to the cleaners here. Not that I mind.