Humans dump eight million tons of plastic into oceans every year, endangering marine life, according the United Nations. (Photo: Vlad Sokhin/UNDP)

By UCA News reporter

July 5 2022

Without changing our hearts humans will continue to pollute and destroy oceans, environmentalists say.

No innovative solution would suffice to stop pollution and protect marine life from man-made disasters unless people truly change and learn to develop a ‘new relationship’ with oceans, Catholic environmentalists say.

“If we don’t feel it here [in the heart], it doesn’t matter how much, how little we have in our pocket. We’re not going to change,” said Jesuit priest Father Pedro Walpole, Global Coordinator for Ecojesuit, a global ecology network of Jesuits and partners.

“The change, as we keep hearing from the youth today, must be now, not 30 years from now. We need change now,” said the priest researcher director of Philippines-based Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC).

The Jesuit priest spoke during a side event of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

The UN conference titled “Save Our Ocean, Protect Our Future” was held June 27-July 1, focusing on science-driven and innovative solutions to protect the ocean.

Meanwhile, a Church-sponsored event, titled “Oceania Talanoa: Faith, Indigenous, and Nature’s Moana Shaping and Safeguarding Innovations of the Sea,” was held on June 28, and broadcast live, reported the Laudati Si Movement, the global Catholic climate action forum.

“We need new relationships, but unless consumers connect with that reality, we’re sunk”

Father Walpole explained that the health of oceans is critical to the health of all species, especially humans, therefore all must care for it.

Referring to UN data, the priest said oceans generate 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, and they absorb 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Almost 2.4 billion people live within 60 miles (96 kilometers) of the coast.

Survey reports suggest oceans have been suffering due to pollution while climate change-induced global warming is causing sea levels to rise. Conservationists estimate humans dump about eight million metric tons of plastic into the ocean every year, which suffocates coral reefs and endangers the thousands of species that make up that ecosystem.

“We need new relationships, but unless consumers connect with that reality, we’re sunk,” Fr. Walpole said.

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of the Archdiocese of Suva, Fiji warned participants about the urgency of understanding an “ecological conversion”.

In his landmark environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis invites everyone to undergo an “’ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them,” the prelate noted.

“It’s actually quite beautiful to still have that strong connection with the ocean”

Archbishop Chong, President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, said: “What is the language that reaches the heart of people and the heart brings about change? Because change begins with the heart. If there is a language that can reach the heart, then you can see change that will go up to your mind.”

The event also featured emotional testimonies from people whose lives were shaped by oceans.

Theresa Ardler, Research Indigenous Liaison Officer at Australian Catholic University, said she grew up in an Aboriginal fishing community.

“It’s actually quite beautiful to still have that strong connection with the ocean, and I’m very proud. It’s very much in my heart,” she said.

Pelenatita Kara, Program Manager with the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, described what it’s like to have a personal relationship with God’s creation.

She said the ocean is the last thing she hears before bed and the first thing she hears in the morning.

“We know when it’s moody. Close to the cyclone season, you can hear the sea rolling,” she said.

Tevita Naikasowalu, Coordinator for the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Columban Mission Society in Fiji, compared the ocean to a mother caring for her children. 

“Whatever we need is from the ocean,” he said. “It can really speak to you if you will learn to listen.”

Sister Dr. Robyn Reynolds, OLSH, Senior Lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Australia, quoted Genesis 1:2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

“I just like to remember that and think that, in cooperation with the divine spirit breathing over the waters, that’s our task, our privilege, our opportunity,” the nun said.

“Not only in a contemplative way, to breathe over the waters; but in a practical, daily way, to find ways with our families, our communities, our churches, to bring new life to our oceans.”

UCA News