Published: Jun 04, 2010 4:24 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 04, 2010 12:39 PM EDT

GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE, Fla. (AP) - Waves of gooey tar blobs were washing ashore in growing numbers on the white sand of the Florida Panhandle and nearby Alabama beaches Friday as a slick from the BP spill drifted closer to shore.

Spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number starting before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said.

The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola. Keith Wilkins from Escambia County emergency management said tar patties were pretty thick on parts of the beach, as much as one every foot.

Small gobs of reddish brown oil washed up in the surf for the first time in nearby Gulf Shores, Ala., on Friday morning and a petroleum smell tinged the air. Officials have said it is inevitable oil will eventually wash up on Panhandle beaches after a slick from the Deepwater Horizon spill was spotted about 9 miles offshore this week.

The edge of the spill had moved to four miles off the coast Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist said after a flyover. Crist said the news of Friday's growth in tar balls was "very disturbing."

"Obviously, it's not the kind of news that we want to hear," Crist said on CNN's "American Morning." Escambia County emergency officials has been preparing for the oil by shoring up miles of boom. The county plans to block oil from reaching inland waterways, but left its beaches unprotected because they are too difficult to shield and easier to clean up.

Oil ashore at Gulf Shores, Ala., smell in air

Small gobs of reddish brown oil washed up in the surf for the first time Friday on the public beach at Gulf Shores, where the scent of oil hung in the air.

"You don't smell the beach breeze at all," said Wendi Butler, 40, out for her morning stroll. The goo was limited to a few areas at Alabama's prime beach resort, but the faint smell of oil was unmistakable as a southwest wind blew in from BP's spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I really smelled it down there," said Jennifer Powell, combing the beach for shells with her husband. "It was like it was burning my nose a little bit."

The Powells, from Russellville, Ky., planned to return to the beach later this summer, but now they're not sure they want to come back. "You won't be able to get in the water, and it's going to get all over you and all," she said. "I don't think I want my kids in that."

Cleanup crews were nowhere to be seen.

Butler said the oily smell in the air reminded her of an airport flight line. She said she moved to Perdido Bay from Mobile days before the spill. Now, her two kids don't want to visit because of the oil and she can't find a job. "Restaurants are cutting back to their winter staffs because of it. They're not hiring," she said.