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Solwara: Saltiness and the Liquid Continent – An introduction to the Seven Weeks of Water from the perspective of Oceania

Solwara: Saltiness and the Liquid Continent – An introduction to the Seven Weeks of Water from the perspective of Oceania (The Pacific), by Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches
Solwara: Saltiness and the Liquid Continent – An introduction to the Seven Weeks of Water from the perspective of Oceania

Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

The first reflection of the seven weeks for water 2020 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is by Rev. James Bhagwan, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji.  Rev. Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity (with Honours) in Ecumenical Studies from the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji and a Masters of Theology in Christian Social Ethics from the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. He currently serves as the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. In this introductory reflection of the Lenten campaign, he identifies himself and his community as “ocean people” and laments that the very saltiness that makes the ocean unique for earth’s sustainability is in danger of losing it.

Introduction

This year the World Council of Churches, in its continuing Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace focuses on the Pacific region. The Pacific region, known also as Oceania, is sometimes referred to as the “Liquid Continent”, acknowledging that the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean in the world, is not what separates the island communities, often seen on maps as green specks on a large blue background. For Pacific Islanders, the ocean is what connects our islands. It is our highway, where canoes travelled weaving relationship and sharing stories, knowledge, food and gifts and has done for many millennia. It is mother, nurturing, source of life, home to fish and shell and mighty whale.

While the focus for the Seven Weeks of Water is often related to fresh water; and indeed, the other six reflections do focus on fresh water for drinking, sanitation, agriculture etc; in this introductory reflection, you are invited to engage with the saltiness of Oceania and our Pacific Ocean as the water of life.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage?" (Matthew 5:13 MSG version)

Reflection

The role of salt in food, in our bodies is well known and has been the introduction to many sermons and reflections in our churches. However, the role of salt in the ocean and the importance of the ocean in our region is less known.

Salinity levels are important for two reasons:

  • Along with temperature, they directly affect seawater density (salty water is denser than freshwater) and therefore the circulation of ocean currents from the tropics to the poles. These currents control how heat is carried within the oceans and ultimately regulate the world’s climate.
  • Sea surface salinity is intimately linked to Earth’s overall water cycle and to how much freshwater leaves and enters the oceans through evaporation and precipitation. Measuring salinity is one way to probe the water cycle in greater detail.[i]

In the current climate crisis, with massive parts of the “lungs of the earth” – Amazon rainforest, Indonesian rainforest, Australian bush – destroyed, the role of oceans, in particular, the Pacific Ocean is crucial. The Pacific Ocean which covers one third of the earth’s surface is now struggling to produce more oxygen for our planet. The phytoplankton, one of the smallest organisms in the ocean, produces on average fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe. With the land-based lung of the earth struggling, more pressure is being placed on the ocean-based lung, pressure exacerbated by rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification.

Furthermore, our oceans are at risk of “losing its saltiness,” as a result of the melting of the cryosphere (those portions of Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground - which includes permafrost).

Such a large influx of freshwater has the potential to alter or even shut down some major ocean currents, which not only distribute food and reproductive cells to distant fish, but also keep the oceans oxygenated so that marine animals can survive in them. Any negative impact on these ocean currents could seriously disrupt the food chain in oceans, which would undoubtedly have ramifications on the food chain that we humans also exist within.[ii]

As Pacific Islanders, we acknowledge Pacific Ocean biodiversity feeds us and the world: 70% of the global fish catch is from the Pacific. Without coral reefs, our island shores would wash away. The Pacific has the most coral reef species in the world. Our local and global weather and climate depend on the ocean. The ocean is part of our cultural identity, valued by us and by the world[iii].

Socially and politically, Pacific Regionalism recognises us as Wansolwara (Papua New Guinean pidgin) one (wan) ocean (solwara) people. Culturally we are people of the Moana (Polynesian term for the sea) and the Wasawasa (Fijian). Our history of voyaging, of living, not just symbiotically but in harmony with our ocean home, provides the “God-flavour” to our way of life. Colonialism and its accompanying capitalism, which later developed into economic globalisation has led to a losing of our “saltiness”. Pacific Churches are working hard to help our communities to restore the “saltiness” and reject structures that seek to extract that which gives the “God-flavour” to our Pacific way of life, once described by the World Council of Churches, as the “Island of Hope.”[iv]

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the “God-flavours of the earth” in your community (land, water, animals, people, indigenous wisdom)?
  2. How are these “God-flavours” losing or how might they lose their flavour?
  3. What can you do to help your community “taste godliness”?

 

Practical Actions:

  1. Engage in church / bible study / cell group clean ups of waterways and lake/river/coastal areas and promote the reduction of pollution and waste in oceans, rivers and lakes.
  2. Read and hold group / public sharing on the importance of oceans for the health of our planet. [v]
  3. Support Ocean and waterway conservation activities and organisations.

 



[i] https://climate.nasa.gov/news/58/with-a-pinch-of-salt/

[ii] https://www.scienceabc.com/eyeopeners/would-oceans-become-less-salty-if-all-the-polar-ice-caps-melted.html

[iii] https://www.sprep.org/news/our-ocean-biodiversity-pacific-conversations-sprep

[iv] https://www.oikoumene.org/en/folder/documents-pdf/dossier-7.pdf

[v] https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/why-care-about-ocean.html and https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/