By: Bob Sluka
There is the sea, vast and spacious… and Leviathan who you formed to frolic there (Psalm 104).
The Psalmist reminds us that the oceans are not ours and the life therein exists independent of us. Genesis 1 tells us of God delighting in the waters that teem with life, both large and small, reminding us that ocean life is meant to be abundant and diverse.
A Rocha’s global Marine Conservation Programme celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Yet, if we look closely, A Rocha has conducted marine conservation projects since the very beginning with storm petrel research and conservation at Cruzinha in Portugal. The Programme (yes, spelled correctly!) attempts to unite, inspire, and initiate marine research and conservation to bring synergy and excitement in a way that individual projects might not.
The best example of this collaboration is our work to restore and protect marine habitats and species from plastic pollution. Initiated in the Mediterranean by A Rocha International and based out of A Rocha France, this project has spread to long-term conservation efforts in Portugal, Kenya, and the USA. Pre-Covid, 13 A Rocha National Organisations participated in the International Coastal Cleanup – a day that mobilizes over 200,000 people annually to restore beaches and waterways globally, founded by the Ocean Conservancy. Our Plastics Toolbox contains resources for addressing the effect of plastic on biodiversity and is used by individuals, churches, and other agencies worldwide. The impact of working together annually, using similar methods, has brought cohesion that only a programme could create.
The USA has been a part of A Rocha’s marine conservation work from the beginning, particularly by supporting other national organizations through funding and sending students and researchers to assist globally. Kenya’s work on a coral reef marine protected area owes much of its success to these students. My work in developing the global programme and subsequent marine conservation work in Florida is led as a US national. It is exciting to look towards increased collaboration in the Pacific Northwest with Dr. Paul Simonin, another US citizen, now leading conservation science in A Rocha Canada.
There is much to be dismayed about in the ocean, but we remain hopeful. Marine conservation works, as evidenced by A Rocha New Zealand’s Karioi Mountain to Sea project. This project has successfully restored populations of the grey-faced petrel (the Ōi) such that breeding has finally begun after so long without it in that place. Sharks, rays, and a Critically Endangered guitarfish are protected in Kenya, the Alvor Estuary teems with life after protection led by our Portuguese colleagues, mangrove forests are protected in Ghana, intertidal rockpools are thriving in South Africa, beaches cleanups are happening throughout Europe, and species and habitats are being restored in Canada. Here in Florida, we contribute to the restoration and thriving of one of the USA’s most biodiverse estuaries – the Indian River Lagoon – with its manatees, dolphins, horseshoe crabs, and pipefish.
Globally the ocean covers 71% of the surface area of our planet and over 99% of the habitable space. There is a long way to go, and A Rocha will be there, working towards a flourishing ocean to God’s glory. We will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; we will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9).
Sluka, R.D. and P. Simonin. 2014. Marine Capture Fisheries – A call to action in response to limits, unintended consequences, and ethics. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 66:203-212.
Srokosz, M and R.D. Sluka. 2016. Chapter 14: Creation Care of the other 71%. Pages 214-236 in C.Bell and R.S. White (Eds) Creation Care and the Gospel: Reconsidering the Mission of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers Marketing LLC, Massachusetts, USA. 353pp.