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Protesters join hands along beaches over offshore oil drilling

ANNA MARIA ISLAND, Fla. — Bradenton's Joshua Spaid sat in the soft, clean sand overlooking luscious aquamarine waters at Manatee Public Beach, and wondered whether its pristine beauty would be lost to future generations.

“We grew up coming to these beaches, and we want to make sure future generations — like my daughter, here — have a place like this to come to,” said Spaid, 33, who works in pest control.

Beside him sat his daughter Josephine Spaid, 9, and his wife Alicia Spaid, 34.

“Because we live here, we want to back everything to get our environment clean,” Alicia Spaid said.

They were among hundreds Saturday at Manatee County beaches protesting oil drilling and supporting clean energy on a perfect summer day.

About 350 formed a four-block human chain at Manatee Public Beach, at State Road 64 and Gulf Drive, said Jay Moyles, Manatee County’s chief of marine rescue.

Moyles was looking down the beach with binoculars from the top of the lifeguard stand at the mostly black-clad crowd, which appeared as part of the Hands Across the Sand international protest. The black clothing represented opposition to oil drilling.

At the north end of Anna Maria Island, organizer Caryn Hodge counted 132 protesters, while Gerry Swormstedt, an organizer at Sarasota’s Siesta Key beach, estimated more than 1,000 took part there.

“Look at this beautiful water and white sand,” said Jennie Patellis, 79, of Holmes Beach, a retired businesswoman. “What would happen if this was coated with oil? It would be devastating, devastating, to all the businesses here and the economy.”

The protest, which began officially at noon, ended at 12:15 p.m. as protesters drifted away.

A contingent representing the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch participated, all wearing identical red T-shirts.

A Realtor from Anna Maria was carrying a clipboard and soliciting signatures for a petition she planned to send to President Barack Obama.

She was going down the line of protesters at Manatee Public Beach seeking signatures. Most were happy to sign.

“I bet I have at least 800,” said Monica Newcomer, 58.

Swormstedt, chair of the Manatee-Sarasota Group of The Sierra Club, also carried a petition near Siesta Key, urging the president to increase investment in clean energy, she said, adding that more than 800 had signed it.

As protesters formed a line near The Sandbar Restaurant at the north end of Anna Maria Island, beachgoers unaware of the protest joined in, Hodge said.

“Many beachgoers asked what was going on, and got up off their blankets, and out of their chairs,” she said. “They were willing to participate. They applauded our efforts to keep the beaches clean.

“I was thrilled at the turnout, and it just made me feel really proud so many people are taking a stand on this issue, even if it’s just by going out on the beach and holding hands, making a silent statement looking at clean energy alternatives and not offshore drilling.”

A similar version of Hands Across the Sand was organized this past winter by Dave Rauschkolb, a Panhandle surfer and restaurateur. Its purpose was to focus opposition to plans to lift bans on offshore oil drilling in Florida waters.

About 200 protesters turned out in Manatee for the Feb. 13 event, according to Bradenton Herald archives.

This time around, with a massive oil spill threatening Gulf Coast states including Florida, the event went international.

There were 625 separate protests expected to take place in the United States, and 20 in foreign countries, Rauschkolb said last week.

“The image is powerful, the message simple,” he said on the organization’s website,

“No to offshore oil drilling, yes to clean energy. We are drawing a line in the sand against offshore oil drilling along America’s beaches and in solidarity events across America and around the world. No one industry should be able to place entire coastal economies and marine environments at risk with dangerous, dirty mistakes.”

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