As we celebrate Earth Day 2022, I want to tell you about a beautiful part of God’s creation I recently experienced.
Last week, I explored the beauty of God’s creation in Islamorada, a village of islands 18 miles long on the Florida Keys. Wanting to see the natural habitat of this archipelago up close, a friend and I went kayaking in the mangroves one day and snorkeling among the coral reefs another day.
Kayaking through the mangroves of Islamorada, we journeyed into a world of biodiverse wonder. The clear water exposed jellyfish, grouper and, for some kayakers, turtles and manatee.
For us, seeing a manatee was the great hope, merely a glimpse would have sent a chill up our spine. These ancient swimming herbivores, often called sea cows because of their large size, were beneath us somewhere eating their daily allotment of hundreds of pounds of sawgrass.
For nearly three hours, we paddled our kayaks through the mangrove “tunnels,” exploring God’s creation. Often called “walking trees” because their tall smooth roots rise up above the water, these mangroves cover almost 500,000 acres along Florida’s coasts.
The waters were quiet and still except for the small wake coming from my partner’s kayak. It was peaceful there; the swirling world of human activity seemed far away.
We dodged and ducked under the branches extending into our path, making our way into a larger waterway where the sun appeared again.
Nearing the end of our journey, a manatee, or what we imagined was a manatee, surfaced above the water for a moment. Twenty feet from the bow of our kayaks the creature came up for one breath, before going back under for another three to four minutes.
We stopped paddling, became quiet and hoped for a clearer indication that a manatee was swimming beneath us. It wouldn’t have bothered us if it upended our vessels with its massive body, knowing it was harmless to us.
On this day, however, we wouldn’t have a dramatic encounter with a manatee, but we would sense the awesomeness of God’s creativity floating beside us the entire trip.
The second experience was among the coral reefs off the coast of Islamorada. Arriving early with 15 other adventure seekers, we boarded the boat, traveled out to the reefs a mile away and dropped anchor.
My partner and I were the first ones out, sliding into water that was rough and cool. Looking through my snorkeling mask prompted bi-polar feelings of awe and sadness.
The sadness came from the stark difference I noticed in the color and vibrancy of the reefs I had seen 20 ago when I had young daughters at my side.
The increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been absorbed into the ocean waters, making them more acidic. This increased acidity has led to widespread degradation of the sanctuary reefs along the Florida Keys.
The degradation was accelerated with Hurricane Irma in 2017. This category four hurricane is one of the examples of extreme weather events that have become more common because of climate change.
The powerful waves from the ocean and the chemicals from land poisoned the reefs and brought extensive damage to the reef infrastructure.
Despite the duller tones of the reefs, the schools of fish still painted the scene with an amazing array of colors.
Rainbow-colored parrot fish swam among communities of yellowtail snappers, the most common fish among the Florida Keys. They were close enough to touch yet seemed oblivious to our human intrusion.
Finger-like coral grew and danced to the movement of the ocean waves. They really could be dancing because coral are invertebrate animals, although they look more like plants. They band together to form skeletons and over the course of thousands of years, creating the reefs we see today.
If you can open your eyes (and breathe through your snorkel!), you’ll witness some of God’s creative awesomeness. Of course, you don’t have to travel to the Florida Keys to see the wonders of God’s creation.
Step into your backyard, and watch the ants build a kingdom. Walk down to a creek and see the tadpoles dart around. Look up into the trees and listen to the birds sing a song. Water a flower and watch it perk up with renewed vigor.
The poetry of Genesis 1 portrays a God who takes great care to create a planet with intricate detail and creative genius. It’s a wonderful experience to drink in the awesomeness of God’s creation.
And it’s a bit mind-blowing to know God has now put this in our hands. It’s our job to take care of it all.
On this Earth Day, let’s show God our love and gratitude by renewing our pledge to be faithful stewards of God’s awesome creation.
(This article was first published in Good Faith Media in a series on Earth Day 2022)