Local opponents of offshore oil drilling in Florida are joining a statewide protest to protect beaches in the Sunshine State.
Hands Across the Sand will take place Saturday on hundreds of Florida's beaches, as concerned people dressed in black will link their arms along the shoreline in a silent and peaceful protest against oil drilling.
Local environmentalist Erika Biddle is organizing the event at several Florida Keys beaches, and is asking anyone who wants to protect the beaches from the risks of oil spills to wear black and head to a local beach at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"This is not a political thing because it concerns us all," Biddle said Friday. "Look what the oil spills did in New Orleans after Katrina and in Australia. I would love for people to understand what it means."
Proposed state legislation would allow oil drilling to take place within three miles of Florida's coast, although it would be prohibited inside the marine sanctuary that surrounds the Florida Keys.
That protection is not enough, said Billy Causey, regional manager of the National Marine Sanctuary Program and former superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico could have disastrous consequences in the Keys because the Loop Current constantly brings gulf water into the local marine environment.
"Any short-term benefit would not be worth the long-term risks," Causey told The Citizen last year. Florida waterways support 5.8 million jobs and account for 79 percent of the state's economy, he said. "If there was a spill, you would never make that revenue back. Can we really risk losing $562 billion per year?"
People like Biddle are saying, "No."
The Hands Across the Sand protest started with a Florida restaurateur, she said.
"Now thousands of people are involved," she said. "We can't fight big oil with money, so we can only do it with numbers."
Participating Keys beaches currently include Higgs Beach, Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Anne's Beach, Bahia Honda State Park, Sombrero Beach and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. A line of protesters will hold hands in solidarity for about 15 minutes.