From the coast of Louisiana we now have the poignant image of a majestic pelican drenched in oily sludge. It’s an odd looking bird with a foot long bill and a pouch for catching fish as she skims over the surface of the sea. She lives among the trees and sea grass along the water’s edge, nests in the bull rushes and feeds her young from the abundant sea life.
The brown pelican has survived near extinction by hunters, fishermen and industrial polluters and was only recently removed from the federal endangered species list. Now the bird’s future is seriously challenged by a man made catastrophe that is sending millions of gallons of oil to pollute the waters, coastal islands, marshes and beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. The brown pelican is uniquely at risk because it dives under water to forage. They are eating tainted fish and feeding them to their young. Their feathers are oil-soaked; they are now susceptible to hypothermia and drowning. "They're still just clinging to existence," said David Ringer, of the National Audubon Society. Pelican Island, so named because so many of the great birds once nested there, now has only a couple of brown pelicans gliding above the water in their constant hunt for fish. Also at risk are a dozen species listed by the federal government as endangered or threatened, including birds, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.
In what is being described as the latest ‘ecological disaster’ we quickly see just how delicate the balance of nature really is. Oil spilling into the ocean pollutes water, contaminates the sea bed, poisons fish and other sea life, threatens extinction of species, endangers birds, and disrupts the livelihood of fleets of fishermen and the countless businesses dependent on their commerce. The long and spiraling catastrophic effects of this man made ‘accident’ should cause us to ask questions about our relationship with the earth and her resources.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, is an internationally respected ecologist and environmentalist. In response to this, the latest man contrived assault on our planet; the Patriarch has drafted the following encyclical against our continued exploitation of the Earth.
Sins Against Nature
In the wake of the Gulf disaster we can call out with the Psalmist, “I am like a pelican in the wilderness. I have become as an owl in the waste places.” Psalm 102:6. There is a call for the government to re-place the brown pelican on the endangered species list. Scientists intend to study the effects of the spill on pelican reproduction. Placing them back on the list will become necessary as their food supply is contaminated and their natural habitat is lost. "They're in a very precarious position," Louisiana wildlife biologist, Scott Walker said.