I’m writing on Sunday afternoon after 3 days of sunshine! And, of course, we have passed the summer solstice so it’s officially summer now. Thoughts of sunshine and warmer weather always draw me back to memories of the beautiful place I left when I moved to Michigan – granted, another beautiful place to live. Many of you may not know that I came here from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a small island off the coast of Cape Cod. Island life is quite different than life on the mainland; our focus is on our community, on the water, on the beaches, and on the sea life with which we share our home. Caring for the natural resources of the Island is part of every resident’s agenda because the health of the Island would impact all of us, even those not living on the Island.
The Island culture affected our family life, too. My older son Joel apprenticed at the wooden boat building shop that restored General Patton’s lovely schooner When and If; my daughter Melissa interned with the shellfish hatchery which provided baby clams, mussels, and oysters to other communities for seeding their local shellfish beds; and my younger son Noah worked on the small ferry boat that traveled back and forth to the tiny island of Chappaquiddick from the Vineyard town of Edgartown. I think our blood is part saltwater! So, when I read the following resolution, it really hit home for me:
C063: Advocate for Ocean Health
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention affirm any and all work and projects being carried out across the Church to protect and restore the Global Ocean to ecological health and to advocate for ocean health through the adoption of appropriate public policies, including, without limitation, projects, programs, and public policies and advocacy designed: (1) to establish and protect areas of the ocean from human interference or to limit human interference through the establishment of marine sanctuaries, reserves, and similar protected areas; (2) to protect, preserve, and restore all species that live in ocean habitats; (3) to prevent and remediate ocean pollution from all sources and of all kinds, including plastics, petroleum products and wastes, fertilizers, and hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, solid wastes, and toxic materials as defined in environmental laws; (4) to mitigate ocean acidification and to assist with adaptation to ocean acidification; (5) to mitigate ocean warming and sea level rise and to assist with adaptation to ocean warming and sea level rise; (6) to prevent or limit adverse effects to species and ecosystems from offshore oil, gas, and mineral exploration, drilling, and extraction; (7) to support sustainable fisheries and to prevent illegal fishing, over-fishing, and by-catch; (8) to prevent migration of invasive species through ocean-going vessels and, where invasive species have taken hold, to restore native ecosystems to health; and (9) to minister to people and human populations adversely affected by declines and secondary impacts from declines in ocean health, especially those whose livelihoods are lost or put at risk and those who are forced to migrate due to sea level rise (“Ocean Health Work”); and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention authorize on the Office of Government Relations to advocate for public policies that support and advance Ocean Health Work nationally and internationally; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized to deepen our understanding of and commitment to Ocean Health Work as Christian communities through prayer and study and to then act to support and advance Ocean Health Work including, when appropriate, in partnership with ecumenical, interfaith, and non-governmental organizations; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention call on dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized to respond to the needs, safety and well-being of environmentally displaced refugees in our own communities who have had to leave their homes due to sea level rise, pollution of Global Ocean and coastal areas, and other ocean health concerns; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention call on the dioceses of The Episcopal Church to partner with extra-provincial maritime diocese already impacted by climate change e.g. those located in the Pacific Ocean or on the Pacific Rim and the Caribbean together for oceanic health; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention embody the teachings of Jesus to welcome the stranger and love your neighbor, and to particularly embody these teachings in the acceptance and welcome of those environmentally displaced from all over the world.
There’s obviously a lot in this resolution so I thought it best to include the original explanation presented to the Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation Committee which brought the resolution to the floor of General Convention. Please remember as you read this that the explanation is not an official part of the resolution. My intent is that you have the necessary background to understand the significance of the final resolution.
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” Psalm 24:1-2. As stewards with dominion over God’s good Creation, we have a sacred covenant relationship with God to use the resources of nature wisely and with reverence, preserving God’s bounty for all generations to come. Genesis Ch. 1; BCP Prayer 41, p. 827. Thus, as Christians, as Episcopalians, and as God’s stewards, we are called to care for the oceans and to pray, study, and act in support of Ocean Health.
Threats to Ocean Health from climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources are a pressing global environmental crisis. In response, the global community has made the restoration of ocean health a high priority as recognized by the United Nations in Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Efforts to mitigate sea level rise and to adapt to unavoidable effects from sea level rise are recognized as a high priority in Sustainable Development Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
As summarized by the UN, the world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Moreover, our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the oceans. The following facts from the UN explain show how Ocean Health is critical to human development and well-being:
Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods
Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions
Oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming
Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people
As much as 40 per cent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats. governmental organizations; and be it further
Sustainable Development Goal 14’s recommended actions were based largely on a three-year study process overseen by the Global Ocean Commission, which launched in February 2013 and published final reports in February 2016. The Commission’s focus was on the “high seas,” vast ocean areas that lie beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones of individual countries. Importantly, Ocean Health Work must occur within the Exclusive Economic Zones of countries as well as on the “high seas.” Thus, while this explanation references the SDG program that is familiar to the Episcopal Church, the resolution is intended to support the widest possible call to engage in Ocean Health Work at all levels of engagement, international, national, state, and local.
Sustainable Development Goal 13’s recommended actions are based largely on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”). The IPCC produces periodic reports summarizing the peer-reviewed literature on climate change that support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the main international treaty on climate change. The IPCC’s reports include assessments of the causes and risks of sea level rise and of actions needed to mitigate risks and to adapt to unavoidable impacts from sea level rise.
Finally, especially in recognition of the magnitude of problems to be addressed, dioceses, congregations, and all the baptized are encouraged to partner with ecumenical and interfaith groups and with non-governmental organizations engaging in Ocean Health Work, and also to minister to the climate refugees in our communities who have had to leave their homes due to sea level rise and ocean pollution.
 The reports from the Global Ocean Commission can be downloaded here:
Where do we begin? Even though we don’t live on the ocean shoreline, we are not powerless to help. We can educate ourselves on the importance of ocean health for all of life on our planet. The knowledge we gain from some individual study and research might help us make educated decisions when it comes time to vote for both candidates running for office and legislation affecting ocean health and well-being.
We can also take action by minimizing our environmental footprint by limiting our use of single-use plastics like drinking straws and plastic cups. We can choose to purchase fertilizers and chemicals that are safe for our planet. We can ask where the fish comes from before we buy it at grocery stores or restaurants. We can financially support organizations that provide marine sanctuaries and other protected areas.
I hope to go back to Martha’s Vineyard this summer to visit my daughter who still lives there. It’s been seventeen years since I came to Michigan. Although I’ve been back to visit many times, I’m sure I will have a different perspective while walking the beaches after addressing this resolution. Let’s see if we can make a difference for the well-being of all for this “fragile earth, our island home.”
Let us pray –
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth,
you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom
and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one
may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet
to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP Prayer 41, page 827)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council