Protecting coral canyons, seamounts will feed our faith

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We live in the Ocean State, and this fact is nourishing to my faith. Aside from outer space, no realm is more mysterious to us than our oceans.

Where else do you most feel this reverential awe – this awareness of humanity’s smallness in the midst of life – than while standing at the edge of the ocean?

Looking out at the fathoms of chaotic life on which we all depend, we are immediately made aware of how much will always be beyond our grasp. This feeds my faith in a God who sees the big picture that I cannot see - a God who knows, and cares for, the whole of creation. There is a Christian hymn that speaks to this idea, based on Matthew 10:29-31, “God’s Eye is On the Sparrow.” I have to imagine that if God’s eye is on the sparrow, God must also watch over the puffin, the haddock, the squid, and the myriad of marine species whose names I do not even know. As part of my faith, I am called to curiosity about and care for all of God’s creatures, and as a resident of the Ocean State, I have a big chance to make a difference right now.

Off the New England coast, an incredible oceanscape is in need of defense from climate change and other threats. A series of five canyons and four underwater mountain ranges full of ecosystems and some species yet unnamed lie 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod, underwater at depths that have so far kept them pristine. These five canyons and seamounts are being proposed for designation by President Obama as the first national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

The richness of this New England seascape is a product of the thousands of years over which the living coral walls have had to nourish a slow-growing and fragile forest of rare species. That same millennia-long process can be wiped out in less than a decade. Trawl-style over-fishing, drilling, and deep-sea mining can contribute to a sad potential fate for the wonders off our coast, one that too many of our world’s coral reefs have already met.

Lives and livelihoods depend on the safeguarding of these peaks and depths.

Hundreds of species of marine life have been identified in the canyons and seamounts alone, and countless more species survive on the upwelling of nutrients generated by this biological hotspot. Having safe spaces to adapt to climate change will be crucial for all these species’ survival. Peoples’ lives and livelihoods will also be nurtured by a Coral Canyons and Seamounts marine designation. New England depends on a healthy fishing economy, and fish need a safe-haven to spawn and regenerate if they are going to continue for future generations. Furthermore, emerging new medical discoveries may lie in the biological riches beneath the waves. Scientists continue to discover new species and the lessons they have to teach us.

Appreciation for mystery is an integral part of faith, and the mystery of the ocean is boundless. Our inability to ever fully comprehend the totality of God’s creation keeps us in grateful humility. We are just beginning to uncover the wonders of the deep ocean, and every new discovery highlights how essential it is that we protect ocean ecosystems from being destroyed before we have even had a chance to learn from them.

For any national monument proposal to be considered by the Administration, a strong showing of grassroots support is necessary. In March, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, where I serve as board president, co-hosted a Blessing of the Waters event www.providencejournal.com/news/20160312/marine-national-monuments-beneath-surface-sites-worth-preserving at Save the Bay to raise awareness about the Coral Canyons and Seamounts National Monument proposal. Participants learned and prayed about the proposal, and by the end of the event, we shared the conviction that the time is now to permanently protect this special place.

Just as God’s eye is on the sparrow, as well as the puffin and haddock, we too need a way to be mindful about ocean creatures in the Ocean State. Our national parks and monuments system is responsible for telling our nation’s stories and showcasing our nation’s treasures. The time is now to heighten appreciation and reverence for the riches of the Atlantic Ocean.

I invite you to join me and New England religious leaders http://www.creationjustice.org/uploads/2/5/4/6/25465131/coral_canyons_and_seamounts_sign-on_letter_4.15.16.pdf in celebrating the fact that we live in the Ocean State by calling for the permanent protection of the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts through the establishment of the Atlantic Ocean’s first national monument.

Barbara Scott is president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

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