Of Presidents, Policy, and Faith – National Oceans Month, Part 1

It’s National Oceans Month here in the United States, but if you’re like me – every month is National Oceans Month!

What is National Oceans Month?  Well, it’s basically when the government acknowledges that while we may be a terrestrial species, we’re still at the mercy of the tides.  And as Chief Executive of the United States Government, the President is the one who dedicates us to the seas during this month of June.

The great orator and 35th president, John F. Kennedy, spoke of the sea in personal, human terms. I could quote him, but in this video, you can hear the man speak…

Having grown up on the same island that JFK spent his winters, I can speak to his Atlantic, because it is the same Atlantic I fell in love with.  It is the water that I fished, where I swam the sharks and sawfish, where I would pitch stones at jellyfish and build underwater cairns and sandcastles on the shore.  I can honestly say I love the ocean, with all my heart and soul.  If I’m lucky enough to know when Death is coming to claim me, I intend to spend my last sunset at the beach off of A1A and Gulfstream Road, watching the light fade away as I share a bottle of a rum with all who pass by my place on the sand, as the water laps on the shore.   When my loose these mortal bonds, I want my unpreserved body to be lowered into the sea so I can feed the creatures within, letting my bones dissolve into the water, and finally become one with the Blue Eternal.

More than any other place on Earth, this is my home (and was my backyard for a glorious childhood)

Hopefully not too soon, of course.  There’s still poetry to be written, adventures to be had, and life to be lived – and all of that will revolve around the waters of this planet Ocean.

Which is why the current occupant of the White House causes me such distress.  Let me compare two Presidential proclamations – one from President Barack Obama, and one from Trump. First, Obama’s from 2016:

“Covering more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface, oceans have a profound impact on our way of life. Home to a great diversity of plant and animal species, their precious ecosystems provide food and energy that are integral to our survival. In bringing tourism and recreation to coastal areas, oceans are important to America’s economy, and they help facilitate trade and transportation, give mobility to our Armed Forces, and preserve our Nation’s maritime heritage. In observation of National Oceans Month, we recommit to good ocean stewardship and redouble our efforts to preserve the health and resilience of our vast oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.

Jeopardizing marine populations and degrading oceanic habitats, pollution poses a significant risk to all of our interconnected oceans. Oceans and their nearby regions are also highly vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate — a once-distant threat that is now very present and is affecting ecosystems and shoreline communities on every coast. Rising sea levels, coastal storms, and a growing risk of erosion and flooding are looming realities faced by seaside towns. It is critical that we take measures to safeguard our blue planet and heed the urgency to defend against these mounting threats, particularly in the Arctic where the effects of a changing climate are already swiftly accelerating.

I’ve linked to the whole thing, so you can read it in its entirety – but he acknowledges right at the start that the ocean is ALIVE.  He talks about biodiversity, but also about the ocean’s strategic importance, and most importantly, stewardship.  For those of us who believe in God, we are called to be stewards of the vast expanses of blue and green.

In the Abrahamic faiths, we all start at Genesis, Christian, Muslim, and Jew.  In Genesis 2:15, we start off in a Paradise that God created for us:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

And then at least for Christians, it ends in revelatory apocalypse, with God warning from Revelation 11:18:

“The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (emphasis mine).

It seems pretty straight forward about what we are commanded to do, and what the penalty is for not doing it.

And in case you’re further confused, God can also send up a great fish to swallow your ass.

And it’s not just Christian faith telling you to appreciate what He did in creating the oceans.  From the Qur’an of Islam:

“And He committed the sea to serve you; you eat from it tender meat and extract jewelry which you wear. And you see the ships roaming it for your commercial benefits, as you seek His bounties, that you may be appreciative.”[16:14]

In the Sikh tradition (the words of Guru Nanak):

Nature we see
Nature we hear
Nature we observe with awe, wonder and joy
Nature in the nether regions
Nature in the skies
Nature in the whole creation…
Nature in species, kinds, colours
Nature in life forms
Nature in good deeds
Nature in pride and in ego
Nature in air, water and fire
Nature in the soil of the earth
All nature is yours, O powerful Creator
You command it, observe it and pervade within it.

And of the faiths of the indigenous people of Oceania, from Hawai’i to Fiji and all points in between, we know exactly how important the oceans were to them, as represented in their deities from Fiji’s Dakuwaqa, the shark God who wrestles for eternity with the Diamond-Headed Serpent until he is called forth to protect the islands, to the demi-God Maui of Polynesia who used the oceans to create everything from the islands themselves to the coconuts that grow on them.

Dakuwaqa is also not an insignificant part of Sharknado 5: Global Swarming. Take that, atheists.

And this is why a Trump presidency is a such a goddamn kick in the teeth for people who love the ocean.   From his Presidential proclamation issued on May 31, 2018:

The United States is a nation whose identity, wealth, and security are inextricably linked with the ocean and coastal waters. From sea to shining sea, Americans benefit from the ocean’s bounty — from the industries it supports and the jobs it creates. During National Ocean Month, we celebrate this immense natural resource, and the millions of hardworking Americans employed by our ocean industries. We recognize the many ways our oceans and coasts enhance our lives. We acknowledge that our Nation can more effectively and responsibly harness its waters to the great benefit of its citizens.

I’ve linked to it so you can read it as well, but in the whole thing, it’s just about exploitation – not about preservation, nothing about the perils humanity is bringing to sea, nothing just take, take, take – and we’ve seen what this has done to the seas. Stellar Sea Cow, gone. Pondicherry shark, on its way out. It will take a literal miracle to save the vaquita, With each loss, every extinction, we see the same pattern: take, take, take – the animals and ocean sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.   And this is why I cannot abide Trump – a man who has done nothing with life other than exploit others for his own pecuniary gain will never, not in a million lifetimes, work to preserve something that cannot provide a return on investment that he can count in a ledger book.  The man lives on an estate called Mar-A-Lago.  I’ve been there.  You can literally see the ocean and intracoastal waterway from every side.  How blind do you have to be to not see the beauty beyond the view?

If we do not stand up for the sea, if we do not say “No. You cannot take it this time”, we will lose so much.   This ocean month, I’ll be wrapping up some threads I started earlier this year, and I’ll be showing you what you can do to save the ocean’s diversity and the incomprehensible joy it can offer to the human soul.

I hope you’ll swim it with me.


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