As Christians, when we contemplate the scripture we can see God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. It also reflects the stewardship and responsibility of humankind to protect and develop creation. When human beings began to rule the world anthropocentrically, the significance of other creatures was reduced. As a result of this way of thinking we face a lot of environmental issues in today's world. Food, water, climate change and global warming are some of the main issues that the world is facing today.
I would like to focus on some of the environmental disasters that have challenged the biodiversity of marine life in Sri Lanka in the recent past.
Cargo ship X-Press Pearl causes environmental disaster
On May 2021, a cargo ship carrying chemicals named X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka. After burning for 12 days, the vessel sank as it was towed away to deeper waters. The incident has been deemed the worst marine-ecological disaster in Sri Lankan history. X-Press Pearl carried 1,486 containers. There were some 46 different chemicals on board, including sodium dioxide, copper, lead, and 25 tons of nitric acid, to name just the most dangerous ones.
Six weeks after the sinking, Ranil P. Nanayakkara, a conservation biologist and sustainable tourism specialist working in Sri Lanka, reported that “a large number of marine fauna carcasses have been making landfall around the Sri Lankan coastline, including sea turtles and cetaceans. To date, more than 250 sea turtles and more than 45 cetacean carcasses have washed ashore.”
The impact of this destruction continues even today. Several court cases have been filed for investigation of the issue. But for now, adequate investigation and actions have not yet been taken.
This disaster is a danger to the whole marine life of the Indian Ocean. It is obvious that the contamination caused to marine life will be transferred to human beings through seafood. Therefore, it is not only threatening life in the sea but also the life of all those who consume seafood and fish-eating animals and birds.
Illegal fishing affecting the biodiversity of marine life
Another threat to marine life is use of harmful fishing methods such as push nets, harpooning, moxi net and gill net or trammel net fishing operations on coral reefs or rocks. There are laws and regulations strictly prohibiting the above-mentioned and other harmful fishing methods such as artificial fishing devices constructed from mangrove tree logs, concrete pillars, stones, and old car bodies, as well as monofilament nets, dynamiting and tree branches for squid fishing.
Yet the illegal way of fishing still continues. Not only Sri Lankan fisherfolk but also Indian and foreign fisherfolk enter into Sri Lankan waters and disturb the small fishing community and the marine resources.
Colombo Port City Project
Colombo Port City project is causing serious environmental problems due to the extraction of rocks and mining of sand from the sea. The total quantity of rock materials needed to reclaim the sea is 3.45 million cubic meters (EIA report, p.95). The impact of rock extraction on the very rich in biodiversity, varieties of organisms and species such as plants, herbs and tiny animals live in the shrubs found on the rocks cannot be easily quantified. The extraction of sand by mining the sea-bottom will create another significant problem due to the deprivation of people's livelihoods as many live on fishing in and around that area. It is unfortunate to note that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report has not proposed any effective solutions for the above issues.
Safeguard God’s creation
I have highlighted some human-made environmental disasters that cause a long-term impact not only on Sri Lanka but also the life of all, especially around the Indian Ocean. It is important to prevent these kinds of disasters made by human beings to Mother Earth and its diversity. We are called to address all these issues on all levels of society and make aware to all who cause the disasters and the victims of the impact of the disasters.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now" (Rom. 8:22). Here the scripture calls us to expand our understanding of redemption to a wider perspective that includes all being. As we engage in the ministry of God in this world, we need to repent for what we have done and return to the God of Creation and respond to him through sustainable and eco-centric approaches on developments.
The WCC 11th Assembly in 2022 calls us to reflect on the theme of "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” We humans deliberately separated ourselves from other creatures in order to rule over them. Therefore, it is an urgent call for us to reconcile and reunite with other creatures of God's world and move towards a sustainable future with equality and respect. Also, we, as church, need to effectively engage in prophetic and advocacy ministry to safeguard the dignity of God's creation.
Let us Glorify God by prayer and work towards a better world for all living beings.