Joining Hands for Beaches

James Kao

This past Saturday, Hands Across the Sand participants joined hands at beaches across the world to protest offshore drilling, deepwater drilling and offshore seismic testing. Hands Across the Sand’s mission is to ensure “the protection of our coastal economies, oceans, marine wildlife and fisheries.” Sponsors of the event include the Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Gulf Restoration Network, Oceana and Defenders of Wildlife.

“It’s important for our community to make sure our beach is nice and clean, because this whole town is based around this beach,” Chris Montague, a local musician and participant in the Deerfield Beach, Florida, Hands Across the Sand event, told The Sun-Sentinel. “There’s no politics in taking care of the Earth.” In addition to the demonstration, Montague and 50 others helped to pick trash up off the beach. More than a dozen large bags filled with trash were collected.

“This beach is getting worse,” lifelong Deerfield Beach resident Carla Mendez-Gillespie told The Sun Sentinel. “There’s always litter, but over the last 20 years, there’s more and more garbage coming out of the ocean.”

Hands Across the Sand began in February 2010 as a Florida gathering to protest offshore oil drilling. 10,000 Floridians representing 60 towns and cities and over 90 beaches joined hands to challenge efforts by the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress to lift the ban on oil drilling in the near and off shores of Florida. According to the Hands Across the Sand website, the event was the largest gathering in the history of Florida to demonstrate opposition to expanding oil drilling in Florida’s waters.

“When you come to the beach, you’re just supposed to leave your footprints behind,” April Holland, who coordinated the Deerfield Beach event, told the paper. Holland added she focused her event on a simple premise: respect the ocean. “It’s a demonstration of the community coming together. We’re also trying to instill in our kids the importance of keeping the beach clean.” Deerfield Beach mother and beachgoer Melissa Lafi agreed – stating events like Hands Across the Sand were important for children so they can develop a sense of responsibility toward the ocean and environment.

“This is going to be theirs, they have to help take care of it,” Lafi told The Sun Sentinel. Lafi’s 11-year-old daughter, Yasmin, may have already begun a lifelong commitment to ocean conservation: “I’m here so the turtles and the fish don’t get hurt,” she said. “Not enough people protect the beach.”

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster struck the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Hands Across the Sand expanded from a Florida to a global event; and quickly escalated to the largest gathering of people in the history of the world to protest expanding offshore oil drilling and promote clean energy and renewables.

“Essentially, through events like Hands Across the Sand, we are getting closer to achieving our goal of fossil fuel independence,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

In Kaikoura, New Zealand, this year’s Hands Across the Sand participants worked toward halting all drilling activities off the country’s coast. “We need to be strong and stand and work together,” Gina Solomon told the New Zealand publication Marlborough Express. “This is our place and we know what’s best for Kaikoura.”

Fears of possible flow-on effects should a drilling disaster occur were expressed by Dennis Buurman, a partner in Kaikoura-based group Dolphin Encounter, which takes tourists out to experience the marine life. “There’s just too much for us to lose – for the whole of New Zealand to lose,” Buurman said. “The risk is just too great. Nobody can give a guarantee that nothing will go wrong.”