OIL SPILL MOVES EAST…. Last night, the Coast Guard reported 20 tar balls found along the shore at a state park in Key West. Researchers are analyzing them — the tar balls aren’t necessarily the result of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf — but the development renewed fears about the spill getting caught up in the loop current and heading east.

The AP reports that some scientists expect this to intensify.

University scientists are forecasting that oil from the spill off Louisiana could reach Florida’s Key West by Sunday.

University of South Florida researchers said Tuesday the southern arm of the massive spill has entered or is near the so-called loop current, which circulates in the Gulf and takes water south to the Florida Keys and the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream could eventually take the oil up Florida’s Atlantic coast.

In the meantime, about a fifth of the entire Gulf of Mexico has been deemed unsafe for fishing.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shut down fishing in a 45,728-square-mile section of the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said Tuesday.

The federal government has jurisdiction over the area, which is 19 percent of the Gulf.

Brad Johnson has more, including satellite imagery suggesting the oil spill has, in fact, been captured by the loop current, which may yet push the oil up along the Atlantic coast — and eventually, towards Europe.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.