Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hurricane Lament

Hurricane Lament
Are animals deep in the sea also suffering while Hurricane Harvey rages above the surface? 

Surely sea creatures are better adapted than is downtown Houston to crashing wind and wave, endless rain.  But is it really better down where it's wetter?

I perused some reliable marine science sources:

-Some marine animals, like sharks and dolphins, can sense the coming change in barometric pressure, and have been observed escaping danger by swimming deeper.

-Many fish and invertebrates are tossed like so much flotsam and jetsam on shore to die.

-All that extra fresh rainwater, lighter than salt water, sits on the surface and prevents oxygen from getting down to deep sea critters - anaerobic suffocating to death.

-But the worst hurricane effect, if seems, is to coral and other filter feeders.  (Yes, coral is an animal.) In one study coral cover was reduced by about 17% in the year following a hurricane.  “Wave action increases turbidity and sedimentation, which lowers light penetration to the photosynthetic algae in the coral's tissues, and also directly kills the coral through smothering, as the substrate particles clog cilia on their tentacles. The heavy rainfall associated with hurricanes alters the salinity of the water, which is an additional stress for the fragile marine life.”

Watching the awful images of Harvey’s devastation and death to land animals, including humans, and that vicious storm swirling above not just land but Gulf water, I began with a question, and did some research.

But I end with a lament, in the style of the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?”

How long will we inflict pain and suffering on the water and creatures in the Gulf of Mexico? 

For years we have sent agricultural fertilizer down the Mississippi and created a dead zone in the Gulf the size of Massachusetts.  And now this?

We have built oil towers throughout the Gulf, like the Deepwater Horizon and so many others, that have become towering infernos of toxicity and death.  And now this?

We have driven and flown and put so much CO2 in the Gulf that its temperatures have risen 4 degrees in just a few years, so that hurricanes hit the shore at greater and greater speed and their clouds are more and more saturated.  And now this?

All that carbon is making the Gulf much more acidic and the coral is weakened and starved and bleached in these repeated “mortality events from multiple stressors.”  And now this?

Now this happens?  The turbulence and sediment from these hurricanes made worse by our actions are also suffocating and starving the coral?

As on land, some undersea regions are miraculously spared hurricane damage and others even more miraculously resurrect in new seasons.  But coral grows very slowly.  The Gulf is getting only warmer, more acidic and deader.  Storms are coming faster and more often.

How long?

 On our Blue Theology service trips and pilgrimage retreats we see beauty, and we pray “Thank You God” and “Wow!” And even in Monterey Bay we see the effects of climate change, and we pray “We are Sorry” “Help” “How Long?”  Come pray and learn and serve with us,  I post these “Tide-ings” every Wednesday.

(Photo of a “coral mortality event” from several years ago at the Gulf of Mexico’s Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, which Harvey pummeled this week.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Deep Sea Eclipse

Deep Sea Eclipse

During Monday's eclipse birds went silent, crickets sang nighttime songs and millions of human animals also engaged in behavior unusual for a workday morning. 

But the eclipse's disruption of animal routines extended far beyond land.  As the sky darkened, many many deep sea critters said to themselves, "Seems early for nighttime, but up we go," and set out on their nightly migration to the surface.

Millions upon millions of sea creatures - plankton, shrimp, jellyfish - hide in the dark depths all day, and then in the safety of the dark they drift and swim up to the surface.  Many of these animals can bioluminesce, create their own light, to find food or a mate or scare a predator.  So during the nighttime commute they also turn on their headlights.

It’s the largest animal migration on our planet and it happens every night.  And if these microscopic animals were our size, these tiny drifters would be commuting on foot 20 miles a day.  Each way.

So thick and dense is this daytime layer of plankton in the depths that early sonar scientists mistook it for the sea floor.  Until they noticed it rising and falling at night.  Wily submarine pilots even figured out how to hide beneath this thick “false bottom.”  But when marine scientists skimmed the ocean surface at night and found such dense and bioluminescent plankton, they hypothesized that sea creatures work a graveyard shift. 

But how to prove this?  Woods Hole MA ocean researchers turned their attention skyward, up, not down, and chose the day of an eclipse in October 1963, to sail into the Atlantic and see what effect a daytime total eclipse would have on these nighttime commuters.

An account reads, “The marine researchers watched as the moon moved into its place in front of the sun.  Daylight rapidly faded, and the migration mystery was solved: the deep layer of animals began to rise. Bioluminescent creatures started to shine, and nocturnal creatures started a frantic upward thrust. As the world grew darker, they swam upward nearly 80 meters. But this frantic migration didn’t last long. As the moon receded and the sun revealed itself, the massive animal layer did an about-face, scrambling back into the safety of the darkness. One can only imagine the frenzy as millions upon millions of creatures clambered towards the surface and then, just as quickly, rushed back to the deep.”

Nowadays scientists can use a more sophisticated tool, the ZAP (Zooplankton Acoustic Profiler – that’s what this image shows) to measure the sound waves as these animals move up at night.  Or during an eclipse.

Is there a Blue Theology gospel in this ocean migration?  All is motion, including light and dark.  A thousand ages in God’s sight, a thousand feet, miles, lightyears - they seem tiny in the sea, we seem tiny in the universe, but an evening gone.  There was evening and morning, all good, all a blessing.  Praise God sun and moon, praise God all you shining stars.  Laudato Si.  Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  Out of the depths I cry to thee.  Blessed are the commuters, and all sojourners and pilgrims.

I found myself humming Brian Wren’s fabulous hymn Joyful is the Dark: “Joyful is the dark, holy hidden God, rolling cloud of night beyond all naming: Majesty in darkness, Energy of love, Word-in-Flesh, the mystery proclaiming.” 
Migrate on down to our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove for a personal retreat or group service trip in ocean stewardship and spirituality.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Praying the Ocean Icons

Praying the Ocean Icons

I’m writing a brochure (maybe an app?) called "How to Have a Quiet Spiritual Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium."  I've already collected tips on where to find places to sit in the dark and pray ("Pretend the seat in the cephalopods exhibit is a prayer bench and meditate on the octopus.")  Also a list of all the inspiring wall quotations ("Read the Thoreau quotation – ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world’ -  several times and ask God to bless and keep the wildness in the sea and the wildness in your soul.")

Now I'm locating "icons" to venerate.  Icons are small intense holy paintings that many people include in their spiritual practice by contemplating them long and intently, not for their artistic value, but as “doors between this world and another, between humankind and God,” as one author puts it.  To contemplate an icon is “to gaze into heaven.”  Such images are “visual prompts for our prayers.”

This Kelp Forest round window is a “visual prayer prompt,” helping this young worshipper gaze into heaven, and opening for her the door to another world.  When I saw this medieval Italian painting of the Creation at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC I experienced a new heaven and earth.  Note how the earth is round and blue.

The writer of Colossians calls Christ the “icon,” the visible image of the invisible God.  A door, a prompt.  I call these blue circles “icons of paradise.”


Visit our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove for an individual retreat or a group learning/serving trip about ocean stewardship and spirituality.  Icons galore.