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Surfers protest oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight

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Hundreds of people paddled into the ocean off Sydney, Australia, on Saturday to protest oil drilling. According to local media outlets, thousands of environmental activists across the continent participated in a mass protest.

Norwegian energy company Equinor plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, a body of water off the southern coast of Australia. Over 50 "paddle outs" took place across Australia on Saturday as part of a National Day of Action against the company, Reuters reported. 

"We're basically saying no way Equinor. Australian is not for oil drilling," seven-time world surfing champion Layne Beachley told Reuters. "We need to start looking for more renewable sources for energy."

Equinor said it plans to drill exploration wells 223 miles from land in water depths of 7,345 feet to look for oil and gas, according to Reuters. Earlier this month, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), Australia's offshore safety watchdog, asked the energy company to modify its drilling plan following national outrage. 

A growing number of locals want the Bight protected through World Heritage Listing ahead of the looming oil exploration plan, Australian broadcast network SBS reported. More people would rather see the Bight as a marine park than an oil field, according to polls. 

According to the Great Australian Bight Alliance, over 10,000 people participated in Saturday's protests. 

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Bring your signs, voices and boards to Manly from 11am this morning to Fight For The Bight!! To quote legendary campaigner @seano888 "It’s our line in the sand where we say enough. It’s about saving the Bight but it’s more than that. It’s the people of the coast standing up to huge development everywhere that risks the coast and our way of life. It’s sending a message that we don’t want huge fossil fuel projects that risk our kids’ future. It’s sending a message that we want leadership that thinks beyond the next election and appeasing the fossil fuel lobby. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy life on the Australian coast, and this is about passing that fortune onto future generations. These community rallies and paddle outs are for anyone who cares about the coastline where they live. If we can send Equinor back to Norway it sends a huge message to the next Equinor, the next gas field, and to those in power that the people of the coast won’t be treated like fools." If that doesn’t inspire you to act, nothing will!! There is no guarantee Equinor can drill safely and the consequences are catastrophic, from Margaret River to Port Macquarie. Your voice counts so please join a paddle out in your local area and say No Way Equinor!! See you out there!

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"Our vision for the Great Australian Bight is for a protected marine environment, where marine life is safe and healthy," the alliance wrote on its website. "Our unspoiled waters must be valued and celebrated. We cannot accept the risk of a catastrophic oil spill in our waters and along our coastline. Oil spills are irreversible."

Oil spills in the rough waters of the Bight could threaten whale breeding grounds, untouched coastlines and fishing towns. Green groups have asked NOPSEMA to ban Equinor altogether, but so far, it has only requested the company change its plans. 

"The opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan," NOPSEMA said in a statement earlier this month

Equinor said it is committed to meeting all regulatory requirements and plants to start drilling in late 2020 or early 2021. The company said the Bight is a "highly prospective asset," according to Reuters.

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