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Posted by portugalpress on July 09, 2018

There was a sense of real joy on Saturday as thousands of people converged on national beaches to say “NO!” to oil exploration, planned to start off the coast of Aljezur in a matter of weeks.

In all, 26 beaches across the country took part in an initiative powered through social media, but there was always the feeling “what if no one shows up?”

Even at 3pm on Aljezur’s Monte Clérigo beach, there seemed to be ‘nothing happening’. And then, from one minute to the next, a relentless crowd of people suddenly materialised: the elderly, middle aged couples, young people with backpacks, families, pregnant women - and so many holidaymakers!

A father from Germany told us: “We heard what this was about, and we could not believe it. This place is a paradise. We want to try and help”.

In less than half an hour hundreds of people had formed a gigantic circle around huge words etched in the sand saying: “Petróleo NÃO Vás Nessa Onda” (loosely translated: “oil isn’t taking this wave”). There were songs, Native American combat ‘whoops’ and dancing before everyone was directed to form a line “to protect the ocean”.

The line stretched from one end of the beach to the other. Granted, it is not a huge beach, but the sight was truly impressive.

Lifeguards eschewed the rule about dogs for the afternoon (“we do that a lot”, smiled a bearded 6-footer straight out of Baywatch), and joined in the fun as activists ran up and down, taking photographs. Others were strategically placed on cliffs above taking aerial shots.

Within less than an hour, it was ‘done’: Aljezur’s contribution to a national people’s fight against a government accused of listening only to big business.

Event organisers are still compiling accounts, photographs and the ‘feeling’ of what happened on Saturday, but the impact appears to have been “enormous”.

News channels both here and abroad carried footage from beaches closer to the capital, and Portugal’s message is “getting out there”.

Bizarrely, Rádio Renascença appears to have tried to temper the news by reporting that “academics” claim the risks of oil prospection are minimal, and “there may actually be no direct environmental impacts at all”.

The station “recalls” a statement by environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes where he told fellow MPs that “there is no human activity that doesn’t carry risks”, putting the likelihood of an accident offshore later this year at 0.035%.

“In the eyes of geologist of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon (FCUL) Nuno Pimentel, protests of the kind that brought thousands together last weekend come from the “demonisation and fear of the unknown”, said RR.
“They are disproportionate fears”, Pimentel explained, “based on the lack of knowledge that people have of these issues and this kind of activity”.

Pimentel cited countries like Norway, England, Canada and Holland were “there is not such a strong movement of public opinion so much in panic”.

Here, he said, people have put themselves into the position of “no, I don’t want it”, “no, I don’t like it. It is the end of the world, it is the holocaust”.

RR did give time to activists however to redress Pimentel’s attitude. Climate change researcher João Camargo explained that the government’s lies are being exposed bit by bit by the courts, and the contracts signed with oil companies are of “the worst possible quality, giving no benefits to local communities or the State”.

Mid-text, Pimentel’s argument faltered slightly when he said: “There is only the risk of a spill if they find reserves (of oil/ natural gas), and even then it has been minimised by the oil companies because the last thing they want is to find oil and then lose it”.

Pimentel is an academic - just as RR explained. It is widely accepted within the oil industry that drilling implies small ‘leaks’ from tubes and connecting points every day.

According to Oceana Protecting the World’s Oceans website “Everyday drilling and extracting - that is bringing the oil to the surface - result in chronic leaks adding up to 11 million gallons of oil pollution annually”.

Thus the people’s fight continues. More events are planned for this summer as today in Loulé judges were hearing witnesses in the case taken out by NGOs and environmentalists of PALP, the platform for an Algarve free of oil, against oil companies GALP and ENI which hope to start drilling in September.

For a clip on Saturday's protest, see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=pleTLr2FHB4

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

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