MANATEE COUNTY — East County resident Denise Kleiner will never forget scuba diving off Looe Key back in the mid-1980s in a brand-new pink scuba suit.
When she came out of the water, a brown smudge covered her suit. Her dive instructor said it was oil still coming in from the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico’s 1979 Ixtoc I oil spill.
Then, 11 years ago, she was visiting Alaska and found oil — remnants of the Exxon Valdez spill under a stone.
“This is historical damage to our ecosystem,” Kleiner said. “The cleanup is the most important thing.”
Kleiner, an environmental advocate and founder of the Braden River Historical Society, now has turned her attention to the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Her new nonprofit, Florida Coastline, became a legal entity July 1 and is dedicated to the cleanup of Florida’s coastline and to protect the environment, indigenous wildlife and residents’ ways of life. It provides a four-day HAZWOPER 40 and 50 training, the hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard training required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for anyone who helps with oil cleanup efforts.
With two riverfront properties and family with a home on the water, Kleiner began researching the effects of past oil spills as soon as she realized BP was not going to be able to stop the spill quickly. She attended a four-hour training class to get acclimated with what would be involved in cleanup efforts but realized more needed to be done. Virtually no organizations were offering HAZWOPER training, although only individuals certified with it will be allowed to participate in the cleanup if oil strikes the area’s coastline.
“If this (oil) starts coming into the river, these homeowners — everybody’s hands are tied,” Kleiner said. “Unless they have this training, they won’t be allowed on site.”
Florida Coastline graduated about 40 individuals from its first training program July 16. Already, the group is working to set up other training events, including one next week, among other efforts.
“We plan on continuing for the next few years to offer training,” Kleiner said.
Kleiner is working with fellow board members concert producer Barry Newman, Florida Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Charlie Souza and Sarasota attorney Charles Ball. The organization is planning several concerts to pay for cleanup efforts should the living reef system that spans from the Dry Tortugas to Key Biscayne or the West Coast be affected by the oil. Through the concerts, Florida Coastline also will be able to offer some scholarships to private citizens seeking to get involved, Kleiner said.
For more information, visit the Florida Coastline’s website at
or itsFacebook page
Contact Pam Eubanks at