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NJ woman canoes from Cape May to Montauk for a cause

Margo Pellegrino, 45 of New Jersey, sets off

Margo Pellegrino, 45 of New Jersey, sets off from Hampton Bays to Montauk Point, the last 32 miles of her 300 mile trek to raise awareness for ocean water quality issues. (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Margo Pellegrino stood on the beach Thursday morning and looked out beyond the Shinnecock Inlet.

The water was calm and quiet and the sun was just reaching mid-sky.

“I’ve got to get out there,” Pellegrino said. “These are the conditions when you want to get going.”

She was eager to be on the water, traveling in a rare outrigger canoe, to finish the final 32 of the roughly 300 miles she has paddled over the last two weeks.

Pellegrino, 45, of Medford Lakes, N.J., was one of two people trekking from Cape May, New Jersey to Montauk Point this month to raise awareness for ocean water quality issues, said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, the group sponsoring the campaign.

On Aug. 10, Pellegrino left Cape May by water and Sean Dixon, 29, of Highlands, N.J., left by land – riding his bike in tandem with Pellegrino – stopping frequently to spread the word about their cause.

Zipf said the ultimate goal is for Congress to pass legislation declaring the waters between New Jersey and Long Island - which she also called “sister shores” - a “Clean Ocean Zone.”

“It’s a federal piece of legislation that would block out all the bad stuff, all the threats of oil drilling, ocean pollution, ocean dumping,” Zipf said, “and lock in the progress that we’ve made over the years.”

Dixon, who is also the group’s lawyer, said the legislation does not make restrictions on industrial use of the water, but asks that no additional industrial use be allowed.

“The phrase ‘lock in’ means we want to preserve what we have right now,” he said. “The legislation doesn’t put any industries out of business. It doesn’t add any restrictions. There is no dumping allowed as it is, there is no gas infrastructure as it is. We want to support the existing clean ocean economy.”

Dixon, who will actually bike the last 100 miles of the journey from Babylon to Montauk on Friday, said he had never biked more than about 60 miles before starting the trip, but he wanted to support the cause. At the end of the trip, he will have biked more than 500 miles.

Pellegrino is more seasoned. Zipf said she first met Pellegrino when Pellegrino stopped in Cape May while paddling from Miami to Maine in one of many water quality awareness campaigns she has participated in.

Zipf said the clean ocean zone legislation was first introduced to Congress in 2000, but has never had the traction needed to gain support from elected officials. She said the Tour the Shore campaign was a way to garner public awareness.

“We are asking citizens to engage their elected officials,” she said. “So when we go back to Congress this fall, we will have a broad spectrum of officials that have heard about it and hopefully are willing to stand up for it.”

On Thursday morning, the Southold-based Group for the East End organized a rally on the beach at the Shinnecock Inlet to send Pellegrino off on the homestretch.

Bonnie Doyle, who lives in Hampton Bays and is a member of the Hampton Bays Civic Association, attended the rally to express her own concern about the local waters and was pleased with the group’s effort.

“We’re thrilled that you’re here,” she said to Zipf on the beach. “Often we look at our ocean and are very fearful of what’s going to occur.”

Pellegrino said she was anxious to get back in the water in such beautiful conditions because it was a rarity for this trip - which began during a storm.

She said somewhere around Atlantic City, she and Dixon were caught in a lighting storm. Dixon said the roads were flooded and Pellegrino said the swells in front of her canoe looked like mountains.

“It seems to be an insurmountable task,” she said, drawing comparisons between their journey and the fight for water quality. “There’s no other option, I just have to go forward, and that’s really what we have to do.”

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