Scientists are exploring whether tar balls come from the BP oil spill in the gulf.
Scientists are trying to determine whether 20 tar balls, some as big as softballs, found close to shore down in Key West Monday night have come from the massive Gulf oil spill.
The twenty balls of tar were found by members of the Florida Park Service who were doing a shoreline survey in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
A lab analysis will determine the origin of the balls, which were between three and eight inches in diameter. Officials said it could take three to five days to determine the source of the tar balls.
The Coast Guard said they'll be conducting more searches Tuesday along the shore and in the air from helicopters.
The news of the tar balls hitting the Florida Keys came just hours after scientists predicted that oil from the spill would be entering the loop current, bringing it to South Florida and possibly beyond.
"I think we are going to have patches, concentrations of tarballs in various places...in concentrations in the Keys," Arthur Mariano of the University of Miami, said earlier Monday. "Tarballs will get into Biscayne Bay."
Mariano was with a group of scientists who met Monday with Miami U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to debrief her on the status of the oil spill, which continues to spew thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico a month after the offshore drilling platform exploded.
Scientists said Monday that the oil slick had moved onto the edge of the Loop Current, though BP officials said it was not technically in the Loop.
"It is only a matter of time before it gets into the Loop Current itself," said Dr. Nick Shay, a professor at UM.
The Loop Current, which sweeps down through the Keys and back up the east coast of Florida could carry the oil as far as Cape Canaveral, scientists said, leaving oil behind in Palm Beach and possibly Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Scientists believe it could be carried out to sea by the time it reaches Cape Canaveral, where it will become diluted.
If the oil reaches the shores of South Florida, it could wreak havoc on coral reefs and fish life, experts said.
The Coast Guard is asking the public to report any tar ball sightings at 800-424-8802.