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Hundreds hold hands against offshore drilling on gulf beaches

CLEARWATER — A couple of hundred beach lovers, including assorted local and federal elected officials, clasped hands on Clearwater Beach Saturday to draw a line in the sand against offshore drilling.

"As long as I'm around there's not going to be any oil rigs out there," Sen. Bill Nelson declared, noting that the BP oil spill off Louisiana hit even Florida beach communities as tourists stayed away.

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On assignment for @TB_Times for #handsacrossthesand

Held annually since the Deep Water Horizon explosion in 2010, the "Hands Across the Sand" demonstration was among 119 similar events staged simultaneously in 18 states and seven countries.

This year's demonstration occurred as President Donald Trump's administration seeks to open more of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to oil exploration. The administration has sent conflicting messages about whether politically powerful Florida would be excluded from that effort.

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"The threat doesn't ever seem to go away," said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. "It's like a vampire that keeps coming back."

The state director of Environment Florida, Jennifer Rubiello, said Pinellas County had the most participating beaches across the state as people held hands in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Indian Rocks Beach and Treasure Island late Saturday morning.

"The bottom line is there is overwhelming bipartisan support of not drilling off our coast," Rubiello said.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos noted that 40 percent of all jobs in Pinellas are linked to tourism, making environmental stewardship — from offshore drilling to litter — essential to the area's economy and way of life.

"We want to make sure our coasts and our oceans are protected for future generations," Rubiello said. "Today was another testament to that."

All Eyes Photo Gallery: Hundreds participate in 'Hands Across the Sand'

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