The oil spill plaguing the states along the Gulf of Mexico isn't one slick; it's many.
Oil thick as pancake batter suffocates grasses and traps pelicans in sensitive Louisiana marshes. Blobs of tar the size of dimes or dinner plates have dotted the white sands of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Little seems amiss in Mississippi except a shortage of tourists, but an oily sheen glides atop the sea west of Tampa.
A cap over the BP gusher at the bottom of the Gulf continues to capture more oil day by day, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Tuesday in Washington, a day after noting that "we're dealing with an aggregation of hundreds or thousands of patches of oil that are going a lot of different directions."
The cap sucked up more than 620,000 gallons Monday, Allen said, even as video feeds from the sea floor continued to show black clouds bursting forth.
The cap collected around 460,000 gallons the day before, officials had said, and it's unclear how much oil is still escaping. BP had announced plans to swap out the current cap with a bigger one next month that can capture more oil.
Officials noted that initial cleanup could take months and that the spill's effects could linger for years.
But as the oil patches dance from coastline to coastline, slathering some spots and leaving others alone, residents who depend on tourism and fishing are wondering in the here and now how to head off the damage or salvage a season that's nearing its peak.
At the Salty Dog Surf Shop in Panama City Beach, near the eastern end of the spill area, manager Glen Thaxton hawked T-shirts, flip-flops and sunglasses with usual briskness Monday, even as officials there warned oil could appear on the sand within 72 hours.
"It could come to a screeching halt real quick," Thaxton said. "So we've been calling vendors and telling them don't ship anything else until further notice."