Though it is World Ocean Day (June 8) and Month, it can be difficult to wrap one’s head around it. Instead, the cry for help “I Can’t Breathe!” runs through our heads, hearts, and discourse nationally and internationally. A strand of grief and despair at the racism, injustice, and inequities, the brutalities and deaths by police and COVID.
At the heart of the ocean crises, similar themes wash up on our shores and beat at the rocks of our societal indifference. Who are those most harmed by the rising seas and storm surges, hurricanes and typhoons? The islands being covered by water, the coral reefs dying from pollution, the seawater acidification killing the shellfish?
The most harmed, of course, are the poor coastal and island peoples, mostly people of diverse shades of darker pigments – the people of the black communities of Louisiana Bayous and Gulf, the Gullah and Geechee on the Atlantic coast, the Inuit and Tlingit, the Native Hawaiians, Caribbeans, Polynesians, Haitians, Dominicans, and so many more.
They are not the ones creating the vast amounts of carbon pollution, yet they feel the harm and have the fewest resources to rebuild after tragedies. They, too, are not being heard. They too feel forces pressing upon their necks as the fisheries they depend for life die out or are over fished from large commercial fishing fleets. The plastics, made from petroleum, litter their shores and fill the bellies of the fish they catch; the pcbs and mercury and other toxins ending up in their unborn and nursing children.
Like their urban brothers and sisters, these ocean peoples are dynamic in their calls for justice from the world community—to stop dependence on fossil fuels and plastics. To save marine sanctuaries and help them restore coastal habitats.
Despite our mistreatment of the ocean peoples, systems, and species, God’s oceans offer us oxygen to breathe and the beauty to restore our souls. As people of faith, we are called to use that breath, as our Jewish brothers and sisters say, to Tikkun Olam, Repair the world, or as Christians say it “Renew the face of the Earth” (Psalm 104). The Navajo seek walking in beauty to find or restore harmony. Other spiritual paths and religions have different ways to say the same thing. We are called to do good in hard places, to bring the Spirit of God where hope seems lost.
Honor this World Ocean Day and Month by making positive waves, by making it a priority that all lives matter. Here are things that you can directly do as individuals and communities of faith:
1) Get outside together (with masks) as often as possible to stand with the movements for racial justice and dialog, and to help in rebuilding efforts -- clean up in a broken community, and along a coast or river; work on restoring a marine habitat, and replant trees or native grasslands in your area. (Check with local department of natural resources or conservancy groups for volunteer events.) Begin with prayer and end with gratitude and having some food and conversation. You can find additional ideas and resources at World Oceans Day at or Ocean Conservancy.
2) Explore the issues and faith and actions resources on this Interfaith Oceans site to start discussion groups and decide upon restoration and justice activities you can do in your area together. Rebuild rather than tear down. Creation Justice Ministries offers an Ocean Month calendar of activities too.
3) Use the Interfaith Power and Light (IP&L) resources to cut down fossil fuel pollution and plastics individually and together as communities of faith. Find the state chapter of IP&L to get involved in your area and find out more about the connections between ocean issues, climate changes, and justice.
This image is from the Ocean Conservancy's Coastal Cleanup resources page: https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/international-coastal-cleanup/