Special Reports

Anna Maria Island braces for worst, hopes for best

ANNA MARIA — From a deck on the top of their home on North Shore Drive on Anna Maria Island, Jack and Judie Egan can see a bird nursery amid sand dunes and, beyond it, the clear blue Gulf of Mexico.

The Egans bought their beach house in December 1967 and their lives are intertwined with its aged wood sides and its sliding doors which look out upon nesting birds like least terns, black skimmers and snowy plovers that have chosen the beach to mate and rear young.

The couple say they can not even imagine what they will do if globs of oil roll onto the beach from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion way out in the Gulf.

“It will be horrible,” said Judie Egan, who will celebrate her 50th year of marriage to Jack later this month.

Jack Egan, who graduated from Manatee High School in 1950 and is excited about his 60th class reunion coming up, can barely stand to talk about it. He has made a career of warning people about crude oil’s disastrous potential if not handled properly.

As a retired member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, Egan created “Slick,” a cartoon cormorant who is covered in crude oil. Slick has been Egan’s voice over the years.

“I think the first thing I would do if I was in power would be to make the oil wells in the Gulf conform to the same safety standards as wells outside of the U.S., which are a lot stricter,” Egan said.

The Egans are dedicated environmentalists who loan out the front of the house so members of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch can park their cars to go searching for turtle nests.

Although the Egans, other environmentalists and beach lovers in general are mindful about the spill, most have emotions in check and are in a wait-and-see mode, said Suzi Fox, of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

“A week ago, I felt we were going to get blasted with the worst of it,” Fox said. “Now, what I am thinking is what we might find eventually will be much different from what they could get in Florida’s Panhandle. We might get some tar balls and tar patties. The question we all have is will we see turtles nesting further south, trying to get away from the spill?

“I am not certain how bad we will see it here,” Fox added. “I feel better this week that it might stay north.”

As of Sunday, there were no turtle nests yet to monitor and Fox was keeping busy counting least terns and snowy plover and taking pictures of baby birds with a long lens.

Fox walked about 150 yards behind Egan’s house, which is a tract of sand filled with sea oats, to take photographs of the birds.

The Egans remember the oil spill of 1993 in St. Petersburg when a boat accident caused oil to leak into Tampa Bay.

Judie Egan remembers walking in the Atlantic Ocean and seeing tar balls from an oil leak.

Of course the couple recalls the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Through it all, their beach, and Manatee County beaches in general, have remained free of a coating of oil, tar balls or tar patties, the Egans said.

Instead of talking about the spill, Jack Egan pulled out an old Slick cartoon that he drew in 2006.

It showed the bird on a buoy hanging out with a gull. The gull says, “Yuk! Mega bridges, high-rise condos. It’s enough to make you sick. What could be worse?”

Slick replies, “Oil rigs in the Gulf.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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