It hasn’t been the easiest trip she’s ever made, but for Margo Pellegrino, it’s one of the most important.
“This is about my home turf,” she said, gesturing to the map of the New Jersey-New York shoreline and a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean labeled “Clean Ocean Zone.”
It’s a portion of the ocean that Clean Ocean Action, the Sandy Hook-based grassroots environmental group, has been fighting for years to keep free of pollution and uses that it contends would be damaging to the environment.
Now, the organization is trying to convince federal lawmakers to take the steps necessary to forever block any attempts to industrialize that portion of the ocean, including things like offshore drilling and transfer terminals for liquefied natural gas.
Pellegrino, who has made a name for herself kayaking along various stretches of coastline to bring awareness to ocean issues, is paddling her kayak in the Atlantic from Cape May to Montauk, at the far eastern tip of Long Island, this week and next to help promote a bill that Clean Ocean Action has written to do just that.
At the same time, Sean Dixon has been bicycling on land, also traveling from Cape May to Montauk, to garner attention from landlubbers.
Together, Pellegrino and Dixon comprise Tour for the Shore, the 15-day event organized by Clean Ocean Action to help raise awareness and, they hope, support for the bill.
“I love seeing nature on my bike,” said Dixon, an attorney for Clean Ocean Action who has been active in environmental issues for more than a decade. The opportunity to educate and engage people in the fight to protect the Jersey Shore is important to him.
“Our ocean is under threat from energy companies that want to drill for oil in every square inch of our ocean,” Dixon said.
"Oil would be the nail in the coffin," said Pellegrino, a mother who became active in ocean issues because she's concerned about the future her children — Billy, 10, and Julia, 7 — will face.
"They're totally what inspires me to do this," Pellegrino said of the 300 or so miles she is kayaking over the course of event. It has not been an easy trip so far.
Rough weather — including a storm Saturday that she rated as one of the top 10 worst she's ever experienced on the ocean — has made for some difficult days so far. But that has not quelled her determination to do everything she can to raise awareness of the issue, she said.
"I'm not wealthy," Pellegrino said as she relaxed at the Point Pleasant Fishermen's Cooperative on Monday after the day's journey. "The most I can hope to leave them (her children) is a clean environment."
To effectively fight the forces that want to see offshore drilling requires involvement, said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, who grew up in Rumson and lives there now. It is the involvement of citizens that has helped to stop other plans to industrialize the ocean off the New Jersey-New York coasts, she said. Among them were plans to accept liquefied natural gas on man-made islands offshore — proposals that ultimately were rejected in the face of significant public outcry.
Zipf is hoping the same kind of public energy that was generated in the LNG fight will help make the Clean Ocean Zone a reality.
Clean Ocean Action's proposed federal legislation would bar development, ocean dumping and more within its proposed “Clean Ocean Zone,” while actively supporting fishing, scuba diving and other recreational activities in that same zone.
The proposed bill does not yet have a sponsor, but Zipf and James Lovgren, director of the Point Pleasant Fishermen’s Cooperative and a member of Garden State Seafood Association, hope that attention from Tour for the Shore will help generate enough interest in the bill to get it introduced in Congress.
Lovgren said the cooperation between his group, which represents commercial fishermen, and Clean Ocean Action is a natural one.
“Fishermen have so much to do trying to make a living and keep up with the government regulations on their livelihood,” that they simply don't have the time always to get involved in issues such as this one, Lovgren said.
“Environmentalists represent the public but they can’t show economic harm,” Lovgren said. “We can show economic harm” that can result from industrializing these areas.
“It’s an incredible relationship,” Zipf said, hugging Lovgren. “It’s bringing all of the groups together in one fight.”
Zipf said the Tour for the Shore had been talked about for a few years, but this year weather and other factors made it the prime time to put the tour in motion.
Zipf also said she was inspired by the fact that this is the Chinese year of the water dragon.
“I love the feisty nature of the dragon,” she said. “I think this is our year to get feisty.”
On Tuesday the Tour went from Point Pleasant to Sandy Hook. The kayakers and cyclists traveled a route from Sandy Hook around the Raritan Bay to Staten Island. From there, the route will traverse the length of Long Island, before concluding next week with a “Century Ride for the Ocean,” where the group is hoping 98 bicyclists will join Dixon on a celebratory bike ride around the Montauk area to drive home the goal of a clean ocean.
“This is the last pristine piece of ocean along the coastline,” Zipf said. “Virginia has an LNG terminal, California is a mess, and the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster.”
“We want to keep this unspoiled for all of our citizens to enjoy for years to come,” Zipf said.
Follow the Tour For The Shore here.