hands across the sand
People gather on the beach at Florida Ave in Atlantic City Saturday and hold hands protesting offshore drilling at the "Hands Across the Sand" event. Anthony Smedile

Nearly 200 people joined hands on the Atlantic City shoreline at noon Saturday, during one of more than 800 Hands Across the Sands protests worldwide meant to draw attention to the dangers of offshore drilling and promote alternative energy sources.

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More than 10,000 people staged a similar protest against offshore drilling in February in Florida. Environmental groups decided to coordinate an expanded version of that event after a BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing workers and starting a spill that has not ceased.

The Deepwater Horizon incident continues to command international attention and has prompted local concerns about the threat of pollution from the ongoing spill via the Gulf Stream — and any future offshore drilling nearby — to local waters and beaches that are a major source of income, pleasure and appreciation.

Absecon resident Betsy Searight, 73, and her brother Alex Heim, 75, of Mays Landing, said their appreciation of the local environment and frustration over the distant oil spill prompted their participation in the 15-minute demonstration.

“I think the beaches have been wonderfully clean and the ocean has been wonderfully clean,” Searight said. “I want to make sure it stays that way.”

The pair clasped hands in a 30-person line at the edge of the surf opposite Boardwalk Hall at Mississippi Avenue. The group included state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.

Whelan — a former mayor who once worked summers guarding beaches in the city and still lives there — said legislators have asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the situation, which he also said underscored the need for further development of alternative energy sources.

“It’s important. We’ve been told offshore drilling is safe and that what has happened wouldn’t happen. It has to give us pause. We have to look for safer alternatives,” Whelan said as he stood facing the ocean. “I’d rather see windmills out there than oil rigs.”

About 30 people also attended an event at Gardner’s Basin. A 50-person demonstration at Albany Avenue grew to 125 when beachgoers joined in, Surfrider Foundation member Bill Driscoll said.

“Once they knew what it was about, the whole beach got up and joined in,” he said.

Thousands of people follwed suit at events on more than 33 beaches in Atlantic City, Brigantine, Long Beach Island, Ocean City, Wildwood, Asbury Park, Seaside Heights and other coastal New Jersey municipalities, said Julia Shaw, of the Alaska Wilderness League.

Activities related to coastal environments, such as commercial and recreational saltwater fishing, and hospitality and tourism, generate 12 times as much revenue as fossil-fuel excavations do or could in New Jersey and other North Atlantic states, estimates in a joint report published in May by Environment America and The Sierra Club show.

Multiple bills prohibiting drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of New Jersey have been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly. But no such plan has come up for a vote since one was first floated five years ago. A resolution urging a federal ban was introduced three weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.

Local chapters of Surfrider, Alaska Wilderness, the Sierra Club, Environment New Jersey and other groups, including Clean Ocean Action, and the New Jersey Environmental Federation, coordinated events Saturday.

Contact Emily Previti:

609-272-7221

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