Tuesday, August 4, 2009

...All (Sea) Creatures Great and Small

“Yonder is the great and wide sea with its living things too many to number, creatures both small and great. There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it.” (Psalm 104: 25-27)

The Psalmist says the living things in the seas are too many to number; in the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis, God says, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…” Somehow we have gone from thinking of marine plants and animals as existing in swarms too dense and too great in size to number to pondering the effects of very reduced numbers of some of these creatures. Those ships that move in the sea along with Leviathan have a lot to do with this, especially the ships that bring fishermen who engage in overfishing, bottom trawling, or other practices that can destroy habitat. The rest of us have a lot to do with it also, though, as we eat the fairly inexpensive fish that get caught by the bottom trawlers, as our increased carbon dioxide emissions cause ocean acidification (particularly harmful to shellfish), and as plastic bags and other trash get blown into inland waterways and eventually find their way to the ocean to be ingested by marine animals.

A variety of species of fish, coral, whales, and dolphins are on lists of endangered species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List website has a search feature; the search can be as general as ‘fish’ or ‘coral’, or can be a search for a specific species. The Psalmist was amazed by the number of species found in the sea; today, some of us are amazed by the number of ocean species that are in danger of becoming extinct.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium devotes some of its website to an effort they call "Seafood Watch". More information on habitat damage, overfishing, bycatch (fishermen catching and discarding fish and animals that play important roles in marine ecosystems), and the role of aquaculture is available on the “Ocean Issues – What’s Troubling Our Waters” page.

The health of our oceans and other waters is necessary to the health of our planet, and to humankind. The depletion and extinction of ocean species especially affects poorer people living along coasts or on islands who depend on fish and other seafood as a protein source. This is a key reason why environmental sustainability is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Because God told human beings to care for the Earth, and because we delight in these creatures, it is spiritually dangerous to do nothing about the major changes taking place in the waters. Because the ocean is a major food source both for those of us who have other options for protein and for some of the world’s poorest people who depend on fish and seafood as a food source, it is dangerous to our physical health and also politically dangerous to remain unaware and unresponsive to the crisis in our oceans.

The next post about what we can do to minimize species extinction will include the good news about the oceans: evidence that conservation efforts and changes in fishing techniques can restore collapsed populations of fish. We inland consumers can help by making good choices about the seafood we eat.