Photos: Wildlife threatened

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  1. A pod of Bottle Nose dolphins swim off the research vessel Pelican in the oil spill area on May 6 in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Bottlenose dolphins are one of nine species of dolphin along the Gulf Coast. As many as 5,000 dolphins are in the Gulf area between the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts and the sunken oil rig, many giving birth right now.

    "It's very bad timing," says Dr. Moby Solangi, head of the nonprofit Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. "We're going to have a lot of babies here. We're looking at a colossal tragedy."

    Scientists, veterinarians and researchers at the center frantically prepared for the possible arrival of hundreds of oily dolphins, sea turtles and manatees. Solangi says the center will be ground zero for any impacted marine mammals from Texas to Florida. (Christopher Berkey / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An oiled brown pelican found on Storm Island off Louisiana is cleaned on Tuesday, May 4, at a treatment facility in Fort Jackson. BP has contracted bird rescue groups to rehabilitate any oil-covered birds. The pelican was the second such bird found, but more are expected. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Blue crabs are among the sealife harvested along the Gulf Coast in what's become a $1.8 billion a year business. Louisiana is America's top producer of shrimp, oysters, crabs, crawfish and alligators, shipping out 30 percent all the seafood in the lower 48 states, says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. (Vicky Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. White Ibis are seen in Drum Bay, La., on May 2. Wading birds like these are vulnerable if oil comes ashore. The central Gulf Coast region hosts significant populations of several wading bird species. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle that was rescued and rehabilitated is returned to the sea on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas on April 26. The sea turtle species, one of five along the Gulf Coast, is perhaps the most threatened by the oil slick because it only nests in the western Gulf of Mexico and is currently at peak nesting. They are also foraging in the area of the oil spill. (Pat Sullivan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A least tern checks her two eggs on the beach in Gulfport, Miss., on May 1. Terns nest along Gulf Coast beaches as part of their migratory journey and feed on fish and other marine life -- making them extremely vulnerable to oil on the surface or washing ashore. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Brown pelicans congregate in Breton Sound off Louisiana on May 1. The state bird of Louisiana nests on barrier islands and feeds near shore. Their breeding season just began and many pairs are already incubating eggs. Removed from the U.S. Endangered Species Act list only last year, brown pelicans remain vulnerable and their relatively low reproductive rate means any disruption to their breeding cycle could have serious effects on the population. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The tools of bird cleanup experts include these items ready for use at the facility in Fort Jackson. The Pepto-Bismol is given to birds thought to have ingested oil. A solution of 1 percent Dawn diswashing liquid to 99 percent warm water is also commonly used to remove oil from feathers. It can sometimes take 10-15 baths to clean a bird. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Birds sit surrounded by oil booms on Breton Sound Island, which is part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, on April 29. The refuge is home to the largest tern colony in North America. Piping plovers, an endangered species, also use the islands, as do American Oystercatchers, Brown Pelicans and Reddish Egrets. (Sean Gardner / Greenpeace via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sperm whales like this one are one of two resident species near the leak area. Like dolphins, whales have no fur that can get oiled, but oil on their skin and eyes can cause irritation and infection.

    For whales that have baleen instead of teeth, oil can muck up those bristles used to filter feed, thereby potentially decreasing their ability to eat. Sperm whales do have teeth, but the other resident species, Bryde's whales, have baleen. (Sperm Whale Seismic Study / Interior Dept.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Piping plovers, this one is just two days old, are shorebirds that nest on the ground on barrier islands and beaches. They feed on small invertebrates along the beach and thus are at risk if oil comes ashore or affects their food sources. (Steven Senne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A Louisiana Heron flies above wetlands near the town of Venice on April 29. Venice is at the southern tip of the state and thus closest to the massive spill. Herons are among the bird species vulnerable if oil comes ashore since they feed in marshes and along the coast and nest in large colonies called rookeries. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Oyster reefs like this one are a cornerstone of healthy Gulf Coast habitat. The Gulf region harvests two thirds of U.S. oyster production. Louisiana has the largest share, harvesting some $40 million worth of oysters in 2008.

    Shrimp, crab and fish are also parts of the Gulf ecosystem on which humans rely for jobs and food. In 2008, commercial fishermen harvested 1.27 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish that earned $659 million in total landings revenue. (South Florida Water District) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: A pod of dolphin swim off the research vessel Pelican in the oil spill area
    Christopher Berkey / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (13) Wildlife threatened by oil - Wildlife threatened
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Wildlife threatened by oil - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Wildlife threatened by oil - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Wildlife threatened by oil - Month 1
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updated 5/3/2010 6:25:09 PM ET 2010-05-03T22:25:09

Florida tourism leaders and workers from Pensacola to Key West grew increasingly angry and worried Monday as an oil slick created by a blown out drilling rig off Louisiana moved closer to the state's shores and threatened their livelihoods.

Gov. Charlie Crist expanded a state of emergency Monday to include 19 counties from Escambia in the Panhandle to Sarasota in southwest Florida. The massive spill caused by the explosion of a BP PLC oil rig two weeks ago has been slowly moving toward Florida and oil might start washing ashore in the Panhandle by Tuesday and could reach the Keys by the weekend.

"We have an ecological and environmental disaster in the making," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said at a tourism meeting Monday in Orlando. "This could not only be an economic disaster for Florida and our $65 billion tourism industry, which depends on pristine beaches but also an environmental disaster because of our bays and estuaries that spawn so much marine life. People in the Panhandle are panicked. They're about to start their tourism season and they're facing the oil spill."

At a meeting in Navarre, about 100 Florida Panhandle residents and business owners peppered BP PLC and local officials with concerns and questions, demanding to know how the spill would affect their homes, health and future and what the company and government were doing to stop the spill's spread.

"Would it be possible to just go out there and bomb the hell out of it?" said Kenny Wilder, 67, of Navarre, just east of Pensacola. A man behind him yelled, "Napalm it."

"I don't want to look like Detroit, all boarded up here," said 46-year-old Montana Kurtz-Minck, who fears her businesses — a facial spa and a surf school — could fail because of the spill. She asked a BP representative who would pay her mortgage when she was unemployed, and was directed to a BP hot line. Another attendee said the line has been constantly jammed.

"We've been trying to call, call, call and the lines are always busy," Ira Mae Bruce said. Another said a hot line operator took a message last week but the company hasn't called him back.

The spill began April 20 when a drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers. It has been spewing up to 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf with little to no relief expected for at least another week. The spill now covers thousands of square miles and is getting close to the Loop Current, which speeds south through the Gulf and into the Florida Keys. It then hits the Gulf Stream, which could then drive the oil north along Florida's Atlantic Coast.

Nick Shay, a physical oceanographer at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, suspects that oil is already getting into the periphery of the Loop Current and will likely end up in the Keys "relatively quickly."

Video: BP braces for months of oil cleanup

"Certainly within a week," Shay said. "It will impact coral reefs and fisheries and the ecosystem of the entire Florida Keys."

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And that has some Keys residents starting to worry.

"I am not going to lie and say we haven't been discussing it amongst ourselves. But it doesn't seem like there is a whole lot we can do about it here. We are so utterly helpless," said Luke Abbey, an employee at Subtropic Dive Center in Key West. "Our money is made on the water. So, if there is an oil slick on the water, there is no diving."

He said there are three sports in Key West: "Drinking, fishing and diving. In that order. The only thing that is not going to be affected is drinking."

But other Keys business leaders were taking a wait-and-see attitude Monday. The island chain has avoided economic disaster when hurricanes turned away at the last minute and they hope the oil slick will do the same. If it does come, they hope the economic damage will be minimal.

"There are so many things to do here, and it's a destination usually planned in advance. I don't think people would be making changes," said Cindy Derocher, general manager of the Gardens Hotel in Key West. Slideshow: Oil spill disaster in the Gulf

David Yates, the CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which specializes in rehabilitating injured marine wildlife, said his facility and others would treat any dolphins, manatees, turtles and other sea life injured by the spill. Officials believe the animals could suffer respiratory problems and damage to soft tissue like their eyes and mouths.

The state's fishing industry has already been damaged — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Sunday shut down commercial and recreational fishing from Louisiana to parts of the Florida Panhandle, saying the closure would last for at least 10 days. The ban could be expanded as the spill spreads.

Crist says officials don't yet have an estimate of what it's going to cost to clean up the state's beaches and waters if the spill reaches the state.

Crist, though, said Monday that Florida would send the bill to the "responsible party" — BP PLC.

Crist said he shared the frustration of local officials who are worried about not having enough floating booms to protect their beaches. The booms are strung together in the water as a barrier to keep the oil offshore.

Florida would "have to do the best with what we have," Crist said.

Back in the Panhandle, Dana Powell, the manager of the Paradise Inn in Pensacola Beach, said Monday that while tourists are starting to cancel, she thinks her hotel will do OK for now because oil cleanup workers will need rooms and will replace some of the lost income.

The cleanup workers "won't be having as much fun, but they might be buying more liquor at the bar because they'll be so depressed," she said.

Associated Press writers Suzette Laboy in Miami, Mitch Stacy in St. Petersburg and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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