By Mark Potter, NBC News Correspondent
PENSACOLA, Fla. – This morning residents and tourists in Pensacola Beach awoke to the day they long feared.
The high tide, plus southeast winds overnight, brought globs of oil onto the pristine white sand beaches here. The oil is now fouling those beaches for as one official said, "as far as the eye can see."
Photo by Mark Potter/ NBC News
Globs of oil washed up on Pensacola Beach Wednesday morning - fouling the pristine white sand beaches.
All along the water line this morning, tar has been washing ashore. You can see it in the surf – it is all over the beach. It is sticky, brown and running in lines all along the waterline, in front of the hotels and near Pensacola’s famous fishing pier.
This morning, there were a few people out on the beaches, walking, looking at the oil and shaking their heads, but no one is going in the water.
Clean-up crews are here and starting to work on the beaches. Some skimmer boats could be seen off in the horizon, trying to catch the oil as it comes ashore.
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But when I got out here early this morning, shortly after dawn, there were no skimmer boats out there catching the oil, it came ashore unimpeded.
The fact that the skimmer boats are offshore suggests there is probably more oil still coming in. The wind continues to blow from the southeast, pushing whatever oil there is toward the shore. So this is something that could continue throughout the day. But already the beaches are fouled and swimmers are not able to go into the water.
The number of people coming to the beach already has dropped dramatically throughout Florida and especially here. And it couldn’t come at a worse time – this is the height of the tourist season.
People here make their money from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the tourists are not coming here in the numbers that they normally would. The amount of oil on the beach in Pensacola today is going to be a big hit against the tourist industry here.
Pensacola officials had been saying for some time that the water is fine and the beaches are clean – and indeed, they were. Previously, just a few tar balls washed ashore a few weeks ago, but that was it.
For the last few weeks, Pensacola had dodged a bullet. But today its luck ran out and the oil did come ashore here.
Photo by Mark Potter/ NBC News
Tar balls wash up on Pensacola's pristine white sand beaches.
The question is whether the oil that hit the beaches also got past the booms and various barriers that have been set up to stop the oil from getting into the back bay area in Pensacola Bay.
That is a major fear of residents here – that the oil could get into the estuaries, marshlands and other protected areas in Pensacola Bay.
They tried to seal off the entrance at Pensacola Pass, to keep the oil from going up, but they haven’t been totally successful in the past. With this onslaught, the question is how much oil got up there and the fear is that perhaps quite a bit did.