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Has BP oil spill canceled summer on the Gulf Coast?

Cancellations rates have reached 80 percent at vacation properties along some parts of the Gulf Coast, including Pensacola Beach, due to the BP oil spill. Summer just isn't the same if you can't go in the water, tourists say.

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Emotions – and tears – often overtake residents as they try to grasp the breadth of ecological and economic damage by the unabated wellhead deep beneath the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

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"Our beaches are sacred," explains Tom Campanella, who sits on the Santa Rosa Island Authority.

To be sure, some business owners are fighting, perhaps futilely, against the differing perceptions of the water quality, including the possible presence of kerosene dispersants that BP is using on the geyser. "[Forget] the tarballs, we're going diving," one dive shop promised on a roadside sign.

Others blame the media for focusing on the negative, driving tourists away. "I'm all for being optimistic, but you also have to be realistic," said Rob Williams, a talk show host on AM 1620 in Pensacola, in response to a caller who took issue with his strong descriptions of the "tarball attack" that hit Pensacola Beach Tuesday night.

The spill hasn't completely destroyed the Gulf summer. At Santa Rosa Island's Paradise Lounge on Tuesday, one happy beach hipster's mop of bleached hair nearly matched the plumage of the cockatoo sitting on his shoulder, as the two entertained a small crowd.

The few tourists to brave the beach Tuesday included an oil company executive, who did not want to give his name, but who said he wasn't worried about his children swimming in the water. A few hours later large tar puddles washed ashore in volumes that dwarfed clean up crews' ability to remove them.

Shane Howard and his fiancee, Sarah Richman, watched the oil come ashore Wednesday morning, and Ms. Richman burst into tears at seeing an oil-blackened crab struggle in the surf.

But the wedding is still on. "We're going to have it on the other side of the dunes, so you won't see the oil," Mr. Howard said. "Humans adapt and overcome, and that's what we're having to do."

IN PICTURES - Staff shots: Response to the oil spill on the Gulf Coast