Pensacola, Florida (PNJ) -- A tar mat discovered on a beach in the Gulf Islands National Seashore's Fort Pickens area Friday is larger than first thought.
A Coast Guard-led cleanup crew thought the mat was getting lighter as they dug it out of the sand in the surf zone on Saturday, but they found another large area Sunday.
So far more than 1,390 pounds of material has been collected, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Murphy, who is in charge of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.
Mats are made of weathered oil, sand, water and shells, she said.
Weather permuting, the team will be back on the job today.
The mat, which is about 8 to 10 feet off the shoreline in the Gulf of Mexico, is just east of Langdon Beach, about half a mile east of where a mat containing 1,400 pounds of weathered oil was cleaned up in March.
Murphy said it's really hard to know how much oil remains since it's not visible. Crews will continue to dig around the perimeter and out into the water to make sure they collect all of it — for however long it takes.
Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown said he's not surprised the mat surfaced, based on the number of tar balls that frequently washed up along the stretch of the beach.
"This is one of those areas we knew had some problems, some buried oil, and it's not just always visible," Brown said.
That's the been the ongoing of challenge of finding submerged oil, he said.
"With the continually moving sand, it's visible today and not visible tomorrow," he said.
The mat was discovered by a Florida Department of Environmental Protection monitor who surveys area beaches routinely looking for lingering BP oil after BP ended survey and cleanup patrols in 2013. At the time, BP officials said the cost benefits of keeping teams on the beaches when they were only finding a dwindling smattering of tar balls did not make sense.
That put the task of reporting suspected BP oil on the public and state and local officials.
"The state got money from BP to do continued monitoring out there," Brown said. "If they (the monitor) had not walked that section of beach on that day, and walked it Saturday, they would not have seen it."
Monday marked the fourth anniversary of oil from the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster finally arrived on waves slicking our beaches. Tar balls and a frothy brownish-orange petroleum product called mousse, however, arrived earlier that month.
More than 200 million gallons of crude oil spewed into the Gulf in 2010 for a total of 87 days before the Macondo well head could be capped, making it the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Cleanup of the tar mat is being conducted by a joint effort between BP, the Coast Guard, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and National Park Service.
It will take about a week for test results to confirm whether the oil being cleaned up is in fact from the Macondo well, although Murphy says in all likelihood it is.
She urges the public to report any tar mat, tar ball or anything they suspected BP oil to the National Response Center hotline.
Report tar balls
Report tar ball, tar mats or anything that looks like oil pollution to the National Response Center hotline: 800-424-8802.