One of the topics that is frequently in the news is that of the state of our planet’s oceans. For many, dealing with the pandemic and its resultant problems, negotiating the opening of our society, and determining one own’s level of comfort with vaccination, masking and distancing in this new paradigm, does not put the status of our oceans at the forefront of our concerns. However, it is an important topic, and of vital concern to our future, as a human population on this planet earth.
Why should we care about the ocean? This is the headline on an article from the National Ocean Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.
According to their statistics:
- The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.
- Covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns.
- 76% of all U.S. trade involves some form of marine transportation.
- From fishing to boating to kayaking and whale watching, the ocean provides us with so many unique activities.
- $282 billion is the amount the U.S. ocean economy produces in goods and services. Ocean-dependent businesses employ almost 3 million people.
- The ocean provides much more than just seafood. Ingredients from the sea are found in surprising foods such as peanut butter and soymilk.
- Many medicinal products come from the oceans, including ingredients that help fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease. Oceanservice/noaa.gov.
Which brings us to this month’s resolution.
Resolution 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 live 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 national 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 teaching 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.
Because a healthy ocean delivers benefits to human populations now, and in the future, the Ocean Health Index is a comprehensive framework used to measure ocean health from global to local scales. There are multiple categories considered when formulating a score for a region, country, or earth as a whole. Currently, the United States ranks 90th out of 221. Areas included are sustainability of the ocean food chain, biodiversity, and sense of place. Based on the placement of the United States on this index, there is much work to be done now, and into the future.
In 2015, the United Nations set up 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The one of interest here, is number 14, “Life Below Water”. The official goal is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. According to studies, 30 percent of marine habitats have been destroyed, and 30 percent of the world fish stocks are over-exploited. There is much money to be made in illegal fishing and over-fishing (above the set legal limit), and not all coastal countries have the desire or financial resources to fight this epidemic of over-fishing. This leads to depletion of certain species, and as a result, negatively impacts the marine ecosystem. Therefore, marine biodiversity is currently in global decline. This also negatively effects the ability of the small fisherman to make a living at his chosen occupation, potentially leading to poverty.
In addition, marine pollution is at an all time high. According to the United Nations, each minute, 15 tons of plastic are released into the oceans, and 20 percent of all coral reefs have been destroyed irreversibly, with many more at risk of collapse. Each year, approximately 1 million sea birds, 100,000 marine mammals and an unknown number of fish are harmed or die due to marine pollution caused by humans. News stories frequently feature fish that have been caught with plastics in their stomachs, or caught in nets of garbage and unable to loosen free, or cruise ships that routinely empty their garbage in our oceans. If this practice continues, the amount of floating plastic will only increase, leading to more destruction of our ocean health. Also, the weekend boater is not immune from these practices, often emptying trash into our lakes and rivers. This all takes a toll on the health of our oceans, and water supplies.
Living in the Great Lakes region, we are not immune to the effects of invasive species. These fish, often accidently brought to the lakes, hitch a ride on the hulls of ocean-going vessels. The ones that are mentioned most frequently, are zebra mussels, lionfish and Asian carp. They often eat the food, or prey, that the native fish rely on, and thus the native species die, and the unwelcome visitors become overpopulated. This leads to issues with our fishing and boating activities. Another route of entry, however, is from individuals dumping their unwanted fish into our waterways. The national environmental organizations all warn against this practice.
Another area of concern on our coasts, is that of polluted run-off into our oceans. These chemicals can be toxic to the marine life in these areas. Some of them are nitrogen, phosphorus and silica, which can lead to biological mutations of fish species, and well as death. Much of this runoff is from agricultural sources. More work needs to be done to mitigate the damage resulting from fertilizers.
Because it is well documented that human activities have led to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, it also holds that the amount of CO2 absorbed by our oceans is also on the increase. When CO2 dissolves into seawater, it forms the carbonic acid (H2CO3. This leads to the acidification of the ocean, which currently has a pH of 8.1. Along with the increased ocean temperatures, and oxygen loss, this acidification constitutes the deadly trio of climate change pressures on the marine environment. This only contributes to the urgency of addressing climate change on a global scale.
Taken together, all this information leads to an urgency to address the issues of our ocean health. This can be accomplished on an international, national and local scale, as well as in each of our individual practices. Education of each individual, family and community is where the process can begin. A healthy ocean and a healthy planet go together.
Let us pray: O gracious Father, who opens your hand and fills all things living with plenteousness: Bless the lands and waters, and multiply the harvests of the world; let Your Spirit go forth, that it may renew the face of the earth; show your loving kindness, that our land may give her increase; and save us from selfish use of what you give; that men and women everywhere may give you thanks; through Christ our Lord, Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, p. 828.
Submitted by: Shirley Lappi,, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council