Oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes

Editor’s note: This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical On the Care for Our Common Home, “Laudato Si’”.

Did you know the that U.S. Department of the Interior protects coastlines for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, and our five Great Lakes? Lake Michigan touches 45 miles of Indiana coastline, including Indiana Dunes National Park. It was authorized by Congress in 1966 as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and re-designated as the nation's 61st National Park Feb 15, 2019. Oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes need protection because they are God’s gifts for our enjoyment and survival, and they affect people throughout the world.

Oceans make up 71% of the Earth. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that our oceans provide vast benefits, including:

  • Oxygen - over half of world’s production
  • CO2 storage – stores 50X more than the atmosphere
  • Climate regulation – transports heat from the equator to poles regulating climate and weather patterns
  • Transportation – involves 76% of all U.S. trade
  • Food – great variety
  • Recreation – provides fishing, boating and tourism
  • Economy – $282 billion in U.S. goods and service with businesses employing almost 3 million people
  • Medicines – provide many medicinal products including ingredients that fight cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.

In addition, coastlines are important because they bring fresh and saltwater together in close proximity to dry land, creating a diverse range of nutrients for marine and land life. Many animals and plants live along coastlines, with one especially important ecosystem being coral reefs. MIT Science Policy Review (Rivera, Chan, and Luu, 8/20/20) reports, “Coral reefs provide ecosystem services worth $11 trillion annually by protecting coasts, sustaining fisheries, generating tourism and creating jobs across the tropics. However, ocean warming is widespread and a threat to coral reefs globally. International climate agreements that aim to continually reduce carbon emissions are our best hopes for the survival of reefs.”

The 2017 Netflix film “Chasing Corals” reported that 50% of coral reefs in the world, and 80-90% of coral reefs in Florida, have been lost. It shows coral reefs dying from high ocean water temperatures, similar to what happens when humans have a life-threatening fever.A Plastic Ocean” (Netflix, 2016) is another powerful movie on how the ocean and coastlines are being adversely affected by plastic. Please visit: Five Simple Changes to Move You Closer to a Plastic-Free Home (Earth 911, M. Somerville, 3/8/19) for reducing plastic use.


The Great Lakes also are very important natural resources. “They are the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystem and contain 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet. More than 35 million people in eight states and Canada depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water. The Great Lakes watershed provides habitat for wildlife – with millions of migratory birds passing through in the spring and fall ― and they are home to many fish. In spite of their majesty, the Great Lakes are fragile and face serious threats from invasive species, toxins, water diversion, wetland destruction, sewage overflows and climate change.” (National Wildlife Federation). National Geographic published “North America’s Most Valuable Resource Is at Risk” (Tim Folger, 11/17/20), in which he emphasized the importance of diatoms (single-celled algae having a cell wall of silica) in the Great Lakes that produce atmospheric oxygen.

What can we do? Please visit:






Healthy oceans, coastlines and freshwater lakes make for a healthy planet. Let’s protect all people, animals and plants in perpetuity!

Dr. Tom Cervone is a deacon at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Evansville, Indiana with 50 years of experience in ecology. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan University. Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C. is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity in response to the Communities - Care of Mother Earth. This CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm grows all natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, who lives in Evansville, Indiana with her family.