'Life Or Death': Beachgoers Protest Offshore Oil Drilling, Call For Environmental Stewardship

May 19, 2019

More than 150 beachgoers, activists and elected officials joined hands at noon Saturday on the shore of Miami Beach to call for more environmental stewardship and to protest against offshore oil drilling and fossil fuels.

“What we’ve got are a bunch of people who care about the world, and we’re standing together along the water to say, ‘This is our beach, this our world.' To say, 'Yes to clean renewable energy,'” said Sam Van Leer, president of the non-profit Urban Paradise Guild.

The international “Hands Across the Sand” event happens annually at beaches across the East and West coasts and in several other countries. The movement started in Florida after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

This year’s event occurred as the Trump administration has tried to expand offshore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

Last year, the president began approving requests by oil companies to conduct seismic testing, the practice of blasting air guns at the ocean floor to search for oil. Scientists and animal rights activists consider the exercise harmful to tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine mammals.

Although the Trump administration last year said Florida’s coasts would be exempt form exploration, the White House has reportedly still been considering the practice in federal waters around the state. Activists and elected officials on Saturday said they were committed to preventing that from happening.

“This is life or death to us,” U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala said. “We want to protect our coastline. It belongs to us. It belongs to future generations.”

Minutes before the joining of hands at noon, volunteers from the non-profits Surfrider Foundation, Urban Paradise Guild and Oceana recruited people to line up along the water. Then for fifteen minutes, they did “the wave” and held signs that read “Block the Blast.”

In addition to oil exploration, other environmental issues were on people’s minds. Steve Vincenti wore a suit of 500 plastic bags to highlight the threat to sea life posed by plastics in the ocean.

Leisha John added that she is fearful about sea level rise, noting that she recently moved from Miami Beach to Coral Gables to find higher ground.

“When you’ve got 20 days of flooding a year and the wheels on your car are rusting, people tend to move, it’s inconvenient. So we’ve moved inland for a while,” she said.

Lauren Metz of North Miami Beach attended the event with her husband. She said protests like the Hands Across the Sand gathering are important for making climate change and the rising seas part of the everyday conversation.

“That’s what’s most important now. Just to really talk about it,” she said.

Correction: The original version of this story left out Oceana as one of the organizers of the event. The story has been updated to include it. We regret the error.