ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - Thousands of Floridians demonstrated against moves to allow offshore oil drilling on Saturday along the east and west coasts of the state in a protest dubbed "Hands Across the Sand."
Organizer David Rauschkolb said about 80 demonstrations took place at beaches from Pensacola on the northwest coast of Florida to Key West in the south and Jacksonville in the north.
"This issue is one Floridians care about, protecting our waterways and coastlines from the devastating effects of oil exploration," Rauschkolb said in a telephone interview. He owns a beachfront restaurant in Seaside, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico.
Legislation to allow oil drilling off the Florida coast passed the Florida House of Representatives last year but was blocked by Republican Governor Charlie Crist and the state Senate.
Oil-drilling opponents fear the legislation may come up again in this year's legislative session. Supporters of offshore drilling say it is needed to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
"I don't think this issue is going away," Rauschkolb said.
In St. Petersburg, about 200 people including local officials, parents and children gathered at a beach resort hotel despite chilly weather and strong winds.
Most wore black to symbolize an oil spill. They stood in line facing the Gulf of Mexico and holding hands for several minutes as a small plane flew overhead towing a banner that read: "Love tourists - not drilling."
"Do you really want oil washing up on our beaches?" local organizer Cathy Harrelson said.
(Writing by Robert Green; Editing by Peter Cooney)