Miners used to carry caged chirping, twittering canaries with them into the mines. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners. The miners knew that if the singing stopped they had to get out immediately. In the paradise that we call Hawaii, and in waters all around the world, the corals are gradually dying off: Do we hear the growing silence?
Various factors can affect the health of the corals, such as warming seas and increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. In fact, about one-third of the CO2 pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes is absorbed by the world’s oceans, where it forms carbonic acid, leading to deteriorating water quality. Since corals are highly sensitive to small changes in water environment the increased warming in the seas is leading to a bleaching event for the corals which strips them of their algae, rendering them white, and dead. One can easily understand why this should matter to an island people, but why should this matter to someone in, say, Iowa?
Like the canary in the coalmine the dying of coral reefs is an indication of an environment going wrong, an environment which affects land as well as sea. Increased heat in atmosphere affects trees: A destroyed mangrove forest releases 200 times the normal amount of nitrogen dioxide (an atmospheric pollutant), and a degraded mangrove releases 21 times the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere than a healthy one. Increased heat levels are affecting polar ice, which is shrinking at an alarming rate, and as sea levels rise, animal species are dying off. So much for the cute, cuddly polar bear! The heating of the world’s oceans should alarm us, even if only on a crass, monetary level: With an annual global economic value of $375 billion, coral reefs provide food and resources for over 500 million people in 94 countries and territories.
I am amazed, and appalled, when I hear people so cavalierly dismiss environmental issues simply because they cannot see how these issues will affect them in the long-run. The Divine has entrusted creation into our care in order that we might properly manage it, not so that we might simply pillage it. What does it say about our spiritual lives if we, like a baby, go about destroying things simply because we can? What will we do when all corals no longer sing?