Aug. 24–Paulita Bennett-Martin just reached the 90-day mark with her new job as campaign organizer for Oceana in Georgia, but she’s already racked up a significant accomplishment.
Earlier this month she helped shepherd through the 300th resolution in the U.S. against offshore drilling when Thunderbolt City Council voted unanimously on its measure. A receptive community in Thunderbolt helped her hit the ground running, she said.
“Everyone we talked to was serious about wanting to learn more,” said Bennett-Martin. “All were champions quickly for it. Thunderbolt is a cool place really in touch with their water.”
The receptivity was helped along by teamwork and established relationships. Bennett-Martin is new to Oceana but not to Savannah, having already worked here for several years with the nonprofit One Hundred Miles. Earlier this summer she rounded up representatives of coastal environmental groups to strategize about approaching local elected officials they already knew. For Thunderbolt, a founding board member of the Savannah-Chatham Sustainability Coalition, Lisa Goodman, is a Thunderbolt resident who stepped in to smooth the way.
That’s how the Washington, D.C.-based Oceana operates. It tries to galvanizes supporters at the local level on federal issues that affect the coast, like offshore drilling.
“As a Savannah resident with years of experience in ocean conservation, Paulita understands the threats that coastal Georgia faces from the oil industry,” Erin Handy, Oceana’s field campaigns manager wrote in an email. “Offshore drilling for oil and gas is a dirty and dangerous business that would risk coastal tourism and other local businesses that depend on a healthy and clean marine environment. Oceana and the Savannah area could not have a better advocate working to protect Georgia’s coast.”
Oceana has had campaign organizers in Charleston and Jacksonville for four years, but Bennett-Martin is the first in Georgia.
Love of the ocean drew Bennett-Martin, 44, here. She grew up in Florida and Belize, where her mother’s from, but had been living in Atlanta. She chose a job in Savannah over two offers in Atlanta, including one at the Environmental Protection Agency analyzing plastic waste. With a master’s from Emory University she’s worked on studies of marine debris and on the viability of eating our way out of the problem of invasive lionfish, a field that’s called invasivorism. She returned to the U.S. Virgin Islands this month to finish up work on the effects of last year’s hurricanes on the fishing industry there. A natural curiosity drives her love of research, but her outgoing personality colors how that research gets done.
“When I went into field first time do GIS (work on) marine debris plastic pollution, I instantly started transforming my work,” she said. “Once I was in the field I started letting people help me collect data, separating the debris and talking about what they thought if it. I really love the community part of research.”
That makes her a natural for canvassing. She went door to door last Saturday in Savannah’sStarland District, signing up businesses on a petition opposing offshore drilling. At Starlandia, an art supply store that specializes in recycling, she delivered thank you swag to proprietor Clinton Edminster who had signed on last year. In all, Bennett-Martin and Jacob Oblander of the Savannah Riverkeeper signed up an additional seven businesses.
“Nobody had a side eye at it,” she said. “It was like yeah, where do I sign up?”
Oceana is also working nationwide on the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, a natural for Georgians to support because the state’s fishermen make little revenue from shark, Bennett-Martin said. Congressman Buddy Carter has already signed on to the shark fin bill, though he remains supportive of offshore drilling as part of what he calls an “all of the above” energy strategy.
Thunderbolt was the eighth municipality in Georgia to pass a resolution against offshore drilling and/or seismic testing, the exploratory phase that maps out oil and gas deposits under the ocean floor using air guns whose loud sounds can disrupt marine life. In the works are resolutions for Chatham County, Garden City and Darien. And she’s learning what happens when there’s an oil spill so she can educate municipalities based on pocket-book issues.
“I’m learning that when you have a spill you have to shut down shipping,” she said. “And it almost always is not if you have a spill but when. Those things are important for the local economy, not just the ecosystem. They go hand in hand.
(c)2018 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)
Visit the Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.) at savannahnow.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.