Annual Hands Across the Sand returns to Wrightsville Beach amid renewed threat of offshore oil drilling


By Daja Terry

With the backdrop of the renewed threat of federal approval of offshore oil drilling and seismic blasting off North Carolina shores, local environmental advocates will form a symbolic line protecting Wrightsville Beach from drilling and blasting this weekend with the annual Hands Across the Sand protest on Saturday, May 19.

Along the shores of Wrightsville Beach, protesters will gather at 12 p.m. for 15 minutes to stand together hand-in-hand against seismic blasting and drilling off the North Carolina coast. The event will be held at Access 29 at Stone Street, just north of Station One Condominiums.

“This is a chance to symbolically show your support for protecting North Carolina’s coastal environment from the damaging effects of seismic blasting and drilling,” said former mayor David Cignotti, who has helped organize the event for the past few years.

“While the event will only take a few minutes, it will go a long way in sending a message to our elected leaders that drilling off our coast is not worth the risk,” Cignotti said. “After all, if those of us who enjoy the coastal waters of North Carolina don’t speak up to protect this valuable resource, who will?”

Hands Across the Sand encourages participants to “leave nothing but footprints and enjoy yourself.”

The protest comes at a time of renewed concern that the federal government could approve offshore oil drilling, which faces significant opposition in Wrightsville Beach due to the threat a spill could place on the local tourist economy.

On Jan. 4, President Trump reversed a previous decision by the Obama Administration and opened Atlantic and Pacific waters to offshore drilling. The drilling plan introduced by the U.S. Department of Interior is one of the largest drilling plans ever proposed, which is expected to expand across approximately 90 percent of the U.S. Coastal waters over the next few years, including North Carolina.

North Carolina will seek legal action against the federal government if the state does not receive the same exemption from the offshore drilling plan as Florida, which would protect the state’s coastline and tourism economy, Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference on Monday, Jan. 22 in Wrightsville Beach.

Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Carolina Beach, and, most recently, Kure Beach town and city governments have all passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling. The county’s Tourism Development Authority also passed a resolution opposing offshore drilling in October, while at least 30 Wrightsville Beach businesses in August 2016 signed a letter to former N.C. Governor Pat McCrory urging him to ban offshore drilling.

Local advocates are also including underwater seismic testing in their protest. Seismic testing requires loud blasts of sound that penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor, bouncing back to bring information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits. These loud blasts are used on a recurring basis, going off every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end, environmental advocacy group Oceana said.

Environmental advocates say all marine animals are affected by seismic testing. Animals local to North Carolina waters, including the right and humpback whales, along with numerous dolphin species, harp seals and fisheries, are vulnerable to these blasts of noise and are at risk from this testing.

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