A little boy with a mop of blond hair splashed in the sea. He kicked up the sand, followed the waves and scooped up the water.
He looked at the shore and cocked his head as a hundred or so grownups joined hands. They wore black — the color of mourning, the color of oil.
There, at the base of the Gandy Bridge on Saturday, bay area residents participated in Hands Across the Sand, demonstrating opposition to oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Organizers said gatherings were planned along 200 Florida beaches and more than 700 shores worldwide as oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig continued gushing into the gulf.
Tampa participants who met on the Pinellas side of the bridge hollered chants and raised their fists. They passed out petitions and talked of legislation. A couple of politicians, including a barefoot U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and state Rep. Janet Cruz, showed up and gave impromptu speeches.
"I say, be ready to volunteer for your coast like you've never done before," Cruz said.
Hundreds more people lined other bay area shores, as the hands stretched from the Gandy Bridge to Spa Beach in downtown St. Petersburg, from St. Pete Beach north to Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. About 6,000 people attended in the Tampa Bay area, said Cathy Harrelson, a local event organizer.
"People don't realize that they need to change," said Linda Renn, who drove to Tarpon Springs from Leesburg.
This was the second Hands Across the Sand event. On Feb. 13, two months before the BP disaster, people lined up to persuade state legislators to stop talk of drilling in local waters. The lawmakers backed down — for this year at least.
That success now seems ironic, Saturday's participants said.
"We don't know what else to do at this point," said Ned Schroering, 49, who attended the Gandy gathering with his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 5.
Schroering said he hasn't found a way to tell his girls the extent of the oil spill's threat. "I don't want to shatter their memories of the natural beauty of this place."
Memories like those of Maggie Schrock, 61, who grew up along Florida's coast. She stood on the sand with her daughter and granddaughter. If the oil comes here, Schrock said, she'll leave, probably move to Seattle.
"If the gulf dies, I can't be here to see it," Schrock said.
The water's beauty isn't the only thing at stake, said Pete Kendall, 68, a pilot and preacher who lives in Brandon.
Kendall, of the Grace Community Fellowship in Plant City, planned to give a sermon Sunday morning titled "Loving the earth is loving the poor." He'll tell the congregation to pray for the Floridians in fishing and tourism industries who may soon be out of work.
At noon, everybody got quiet and held hands.
Four-year-old Ben Frye was still in the water, and his dad, David, waded in to scoop him up. Ben protested, fidgeting as he stood in the line, drawing lines in the wet sand with his toes.
His mom, Dorinda, chuckled as Ben squirmed away from his parents' clutches. He ran back to the water, smiling and splashing in the clear, blue waves.
Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.