Communities are rising up around Aotearoa to say no to deep sea drilling off their coast. Below we hear from longtime activist and passionate Cantabrian, Siana Fitzjohn, about their day of banners and oily beach-goers.
On the 15th February our Christchurch-based group, Oil Free Otautahi, got ready to haul our homemade banners, signs, and sandwiches down to blustery New Brighton beach to say (for what felt like the hundredth time) NO to deep sea oil drilling and YES to a clean energy future. 'Banners on Beaches' was a Greenpeace initiative whereby communities and campaigning groups were provided with resources and support to host events on their local beaches. What resulted was a staggering 2300 people flocking to beaches all down the East Coast of the South Island from Golden Bay to Bluff to stand in solidarity against the reckless exploratory oil drilling being carried out by Anadarko in our waters.
This wasn't the first time we'd gathered at New Brighton pier to demonstrate our opposition to deep sea drilling, and on Saturday morning I had felt that familiar pre-party anxiety that nobody would come, that a sound system wouldn't arrive or that the weather would crack up. But - before I could really get my knickers in a twist - kids, dogs, parents, grannies and pirates began to pour in from all angles of the beach, equipped with hand painted signs, t-shirts - even a dolphin costume! Immediately banners were whipped up along the pier and stalls were hurriedly set up by other local groups including 350.org and Hector's Protectors. A brave group even began to smother themselves in a gloopy molasses mixture resembling crude oil. I couldn't contain a giggle at a couple of signs 'Stop deep sea oil drilling, ya eggs' and 'We're still having earthquakes in Pegasus Bay and you want to WHAT in the WHERE?' but their humour summed up Cantabrians' personal conviction about the issue.
After some hearty chants from the 500 strong crowd and the frantic snapping of photographers we gathered to hear Christchurch's deputy mayor Vicki Buck speak out against the abysmal recent plans to drill for oil within the Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary. This speech had a profound effect on the crowd as it demonstrated our unique opportunity to increase the level of institutional support for an environmentally sound future; one that that does not rely on the indiscriminate exploitation of fossil fuels or cause unprecedented risk to our marine habitats.
As I looked around and saw the energy, unity and passion of the people gathered at the beach it became clear to me that this was about more than just saying no to deep sea drilling by Anadarko. This had become a way for members of our community to engage and get excited about the possibilities of creating a greener alternative future. In my mind, our government's decision to pursue deep sea oil for the sake of an ill-conceived economic plan shows that they grossly underestimate kiwis' potential for adaptation, innovation and ingenuity.
To find out more about the impact an oil spill would have on our coasts, visit http://oilspillmap.org.nz/