A Rocha is driven by biblical faith and commitment to science. In order to meet Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) on oceans, faith communities need to be effectively engaged and equipped. Combining science and theology over the long-term more effectively deals with the complexity of our planet’s situation, balances hope and despair, and leads to successful marine conservation. Our recent newsletter highlights our marine conservation projects. Dr Robert Sluka, Lead Marine Scientist, recently spoke (download text) at the United Nations Ocean Conference about the work of A Rocha and the integration of Christian faith and marine conservation. He shares the goals and ethos behind the marine programme in this short video.
Goal and Strategy
The goal of A Rocha’s Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme is to participate in the transformation of the ocean and the people who use it so that the ocean becomes a place of abundance and teeming and is fruitfully and sustainably used by people.
The model we are using to do this is to let both science and theology drive our conservation, education and advocacy efforts. Utilising our own and the latest published science
we determine the range of locally important species, habitats and ecological threats to the focal marine environment. As a Christian organisation, we rigorously study our faith in order to determine principles which guide our lifestyles, ethics, and relative importance of particular issues.
Out of the synergy of these two maps of reality flow our conservation, education and advocacy efforts. The attempt is towards holistic projects which take into account a scientific understanding of marine conservation as well as our own and the local community’s worldviews such that projects combine attention to biodiversity, livelihoods, and spirituality.
Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya
Our field study centre in Watamu is located on the shore of a marine national park where we partner with Kenya Wildlife Service to provide information to help with the management of that marine protected area.
Our work has focused on documenting marine biodiversity, coral reef resilience to climate change, and impacts of tourism on coral reefs. We developed, in collaboration with Oxford University, the first habitat map for the marine park and have begun a project focused on the rockpool habitats which house endemic biodiversity rare in the Western Indian Ocean, such as the crisp pillow coral seen below.
Our long running education programs have now incorporated marine conservation activities into their work with local school and we have also developed projects training local guides to increase livelihood opportunities.
We have addressed faith issues through a themed programme titled The Hidden Things of God in the Ocean [free download]. This programme engages people with the beauty of rockpool biodiversity, hidden from sight by the tides, revealed at low tide. By combining Biblical metaphors concerning revealing hidden things and healing we have explored the role of faith in marine research and conservation. See the references for links to downloadable resources.
Science has thus set the stage for opportunities with faith motivating our work and theological reflection on its purpose and all this working itself out within a Christian community. This has then led to experiential educational work, advocacy for habitats and species not currently focused on in local conservation efforts, and conservation activities which focus on both people and place, particularly incorporating livelihoods development among those utilising the ocean for food and income.
An Ocean of Plastic
A Rocha’s research and conservation on marine plastics has focused on helping people to understand the extent of the problem globally and providing resources to help them get involved. We have developed a beach clean up guide so you can organise your own event and The Microplastics Toolbox which has loads of resources to help you learn, act and conduct citizen-science research.
Educational work has already started at a number of Christian conferences and events focusing on engaging Christians with the scientific issue of microplastic pollution and linking this to teaching from the Christian faith on our responsibility for taking care of the ocean. Additionally, we have completed educational projects in collaboration with the Anglican Church of Monaco and as part of the Monacology event, residential courses at A Rocha France’s Les Tourades field study centre, and at Cruzinha, A Rocha Portugal’s field study centre and birth place of the A Rocha Movement.
A microplastics factsheet was developed and translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese for use across our 20 national organizations – download it at the bottom of the Microplastics project page.
Microplastic research is beginning in Florida, USA, the photo of a nurdle taken at the National Seashore near Cape Canaveral
We have also used social media to alert our constituents globally to the pressing issue of plastics in the ocean such as short videos like below and posts linking to other work.
Lee Abbey – United Kingdom
A Rocha works in partnership with the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association to study the impacts of climate change on a coastal seaweed, particularly in relation to seaweed bleaching with increases in climate change induced heat waves alongside identifying the changes in limpet grazing across the seasons. Our study sites are located near one of our A Rocha UK Partners in Action, Lee Abbey, a Christian conference centre located in Devon.
We utilized scientific surveys of Lee Bay to determine marine biodiversity and selected 10 species which were most common and also easily identifiable by non-scientists.
A Rocha UK marine intern Hannah Hereward produced a Top Ten brochure which visitors can use to search the beach for these species. These brochures and signage in Lee Abbey house (and in the future at the beach) have links pointing to online resources about the science of the bay and also Christian devotional writing which could help visitors to interact with these species in light of their faith.
Additionally, on dates such as World Oceans Day, the community and visitors cleaned the beach of rubbish and plastic, finishing with a campfire which featured a devotional teaching on why what they just completed was an important Christian act. This solidifies in people’s minds that these acts are to be a part of their regular practice of faith – body, mind, heart, and soul engaged holistically.
Hannah Hereward giving a personal reflection on her studies to visitors to Lee Abbey
We are currently utilising the scientific data to identify potential species of conservation concern and potential advocacy topics. We also currently advocate generally for marine conservation among Christian churches through A Rocha UK’s Eco Church programme and through lectures.
A Rocha Marine Team
- Dr Robert Sluka – Leads the team – USA
- Dr Joanna Calcutt – microplastics researcher – UK
- Dr Benjamin Cowburn – Western Indian Ocean consultant – São Tomé and Príncipe
- Hannah Hereward – Coral reefs, SDG14, kelp, and seabirds – UK
- Peter Musembi – Marine Researcher – Kenya
- Aline Nussbaumer – marine plastics – France
- Júlio Reis – litter monitoring – Portugal
- Dr Dorothea Seeger – Seagrass and marine plastics – Germany
- Dr Paul Simonin – Fisheries – USA
- Kristel Van Houte – seabirds, coastal education, and benthic ecology – Aotearoa/New Zealand
A Rocha Publications and Presentations
Papers and book chapters
Hannah F R Hereward, Nicholas D Ray, Louise K Gentle and Robert D Sluka. 2017. Ghost crab burrow density at Watamu Marine National Park: An indicator of the impact of urbanisation and associated disturbance? African Journal of Marine Science 39(1):129-133.
Sluka, R.D. and A. Nussbaumer. 2017. Le changement climatique et l’océan. Pages 87-101 in E. Hobbs, J.F. Mouhot, and C. Walley (Eds.) Evangile & changement climatique. Dossier VIVRE no. 40 En Glapin 8, Switzerland. 227pp.
Sluka, Robert D. 2016. The Hidden Things of God in the Ocean. Anglican EcoCare Journal of EcoTheology 2:41-50.
Srokosz, M and R.D. Sluka. 2016. Chapter 14: Creation Care of the other 71%. Pages 214-236 in C.Bell and R.S. White (Eds) Creation Care and the Gospel: Reconsidering the Mission of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers Marketing LLC, Massachusetts, USA. 353pp.
Sindorf, V, B. Cowburn and R.D. Sluka. 2015. Rocky intertidal fish assemblage in the Watamu Marine National Park, Western Indian Ocean. Environmental Biology of Fishes DOI 10.1007/s10641-015-0397-1
Gordon, T.A.C., Cowburn, B, and R.D. Sluka. 2015. Defended territories of an aggressive damselfish contain lower juvenile coral density than adjacent non-defended areas on Kenyan lagoon patch reefs. Coral Reefs 34:13-16. DOI 10.1007/s00338-014-1229-z
Sluka, R.D. and P. Simonin. 2014. Marine Capture Fisheries – A call to action in response to limits, unintended consequences, and ethics. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 66:203-212.
Cowburn, B., R. Sluka, J. Smith, and M.O.S. Mohamed. 2013. Tourism, Reef Condition and Visitor Satisfaction in Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. Western Indian Ocean Journal of Marine Science 12: 57-70.
Sluka, R. D. 2012. Hope for the Ocean: Marine Biodiversity, Poverty Alleviation and Blessing the Nations. Grove Books Limited, Cambridge. 28pp.
What does Resurrection Look Like for the Indian River Lagoon by Robert Sluka. 2018. A Rocha USA blog.
Photo Essay: “Trouble in Paradise: Plastic pollution in the Bahamas” by Grace Swing & Robert D Sluka 2018. God and Nature Magazine, American Scientific Affiliation.
Peace on earth, goodwill to manatees. 2017. A Rocha USA blog.
Organizações se unem no combate ao microplástico em ambientes marinhos [Organizations unite to combat microplastics in the ocean] 2017. Ultimato (Brasilian online magazine)
Waiting for Hurricane Irma. 2017. A Rocha International Planetwise Blog http://blog.arocha.org/en/waiting-for-hurricane-irma/
Loving your neighbor – the case of the Nassau grouper. 2016. My Father’s World blog.
Postcard from the Mediterranean. 2015. A Rocha International Planetwise Blog
R. Sluka. 2015. Grouper: Amazing Fish. Koomba 2, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. Pp 24-25.
R.D. Sluka. 2015. The Hidden Things of God in the Ocean. Day 41. A Christian Ministry in the National Parks Devotional Guide, Denver, CO, USA. www.acmnp.com
R.D. Sluka. 2015 In the Eye of the Barracuda: Beauty in the Ocean. Science and Belief blog
R.D. Sluka. 2015 Marine protected areas: biodiversity conservation and development. In: Hodson, Martin J.and Hodson, Margot R. 2015. A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues. Bible Reading Fellowship, London, UK.
R.D. Sluka.. 2014. Coral Reef Research in Kenya. A Rocha International News Issue 56, December 2014. p. 3.
R.D.Sluka. 2013. Is there hope for the ocean? God and Nature. American Scientific Affiliation.
R.D.Sluka. 2013 Joined-up thinking. A Rocha UK Spring/Summer 2013 Magazine. p. 8 Sluka, R.D. 2013 Hope for the ocean. A Rocha UK Spring/Summer 2013 Magazine. p. 9
Sea Life. Robert Sluka. 2012. Science and Belief blog
Making Sense of Science and Faith. Robert Sluka. 2012. Science and Belief blog
Hope for the Ocean. 2012. Robert Sluka. 2012. Science and Belief blog
University Dissertations and Theses completed
Benjamin D. Cowburn. 2016. Coral reefs and climate change in the Indian Ocean: A case study of Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya and other Indian Ocean locations. Ph.D. Dissertation, Oxford University.
Hannah F.R. Hereward. 2015. An assessment of the density and the diversity of hawkfish (Pisces: Cirrhitidae) across Watamu and Shimoni Reefs, Kenya: Identifying habitat associations of freckled (Paracirrhites Forsteri) and arc-eye hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus) within Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. B.Sc. Dissertation, Nottingham Trent University.
Chloe Naylor. 2014. Investigation into echinoderm species richness and abundance within the rockpool habitats of the Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. B.Sc. Dissertation, University of Southampton.
Sarah Tyrrell. 2014. The Distribution and impact of Sea urchins on Coral reefs in Watamu, Kenya. BSc with Honours in Geography, University of Exeter.
Timothy A.C. Gordon. 2013. Defended territories of an aggressive damselfish contain lower juvenile coral density than adjacent non-defended areas on Kenyan lagoon patch reefs. 2nd year Dissertation, University of Cambridge.
Emma R. Bush. 2013. What’s the Catch? Mosquito Net Fishing in Coastal East Africa. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science and the Diploma of Imperial College London.
Peter Musembi, Benjamin Cowburn and Robert D Sluka. 2017.Conservation of sharks and rays through research and Education in Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve, Kenya.Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium. Hermanus, South Africa, 10-13 Sep.
Robert D Sluka. 2017. A Rocha International Statement. United Nations Ocean Conference, New York City, USA, 5-9 June. Starts at 1:00:20
Robert D Sluka. 2016. The Spiritual Pathway at the IUCN World Conservation Congress: implications for coral reef conservation. Reef Conservation in the UK, 26 November, London Zoological Society, London UK.
Robert D Sluka, Benjamin Cowburn, Timothy Gordon, Hannah F.R. Hereward, Matthias Horion, Dorothea Kohlmeier, Peter Musembi, Aline Porteous, Cassi Raker, Victoria Sindorf, Michelle L. Taylor, and Alex D Rogers. 2016. Biodiversity in Watamu Marine National Park – new study reveals important species diversity previously overlooked. IUCN World Conservation Congress, 1-10 September Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Benjamin D Cowburn and David Obura. 2016. Investigating multiple coral reef stressors on a shoe-string. 13th International Coral Reef Symposium, 19-24 June Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Robert D Sluka. 2016. Hope for the ocean. Christians in Science Northern Conference, 16 April Sheffield, UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2016. Faith and Marine Conservation. Cambridge Conservation Forum. 15 February Cambridge, UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2015. Hope for the Ocean. Reconciling a Wounded Planet Conference, 18 September, Coventry Cathedral, UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2015. Science, Faith, and Blessing the Nations. London School of Theology, 21 April 2015, London, UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2015. Beauty in the Ocean: Theological and Practical Implications. London School of Theology, 10 March 2015, London, UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2014, The Hidden Things of God in the Ocean. ASA/CIS/CSA Annual Conference, 25-28 July McMaster University, Hamilton Canada.
Tim Gordon and Benjamin Cowburn. 2013. Damselfish Territories and Juvenile Coral Density: A Previously Overlooked Association. Reef Conservation UK meeting at Zoological Society of London, 7 Dec 2013, London, UK.
Robert D. Sluka. 2011. Christians: opponents or partners in conserving marine biodiversity? World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, September 26-30, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Robert D Sluka, Peter Musembi and Benjamin D Cowburn. 2017. Why have Coral Reefs in Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya not recovered after the 1998 bleaching event? Marine Protected Areas: Science Policy and Management 2017, 15th-17th May, Poole, UK.
Peter Musembi, Benjamin Cowburn, Jillo Katello, Robert D. Sluka, and David Obura. 2016. Anomastraea irregularis in Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. Reef Conservation in the UK, 26 November, London Zoological Society, London UK.
Robert D Sluka. 2016. Science and Theology: Drivers of A Rocha’s global Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme. IUCN World Conservation Congress, 1-10 September, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Benjamin Cowburn, Robert D Sluka, Peter Musembi, Dorothea Kohlmeier. 2015. Biodiversity of Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. Reef Conservation in the UK, 28 November 2015, London Zoological Society, London UK.
Benjamin Cowburn, Robert D Sluka, Peter Musembi, Dorothea Kohlmeier. 2015. Biodiversity of Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. European Marine Biology Symposium, 21-25 September 2015, Helgoland, Germany.
Cassie Raker, Benjamin Cowburn, Victoria Sindorf, Peter Musembi, Benjamin Vanbaelenberghe, and Robert D Sluka. 2014. Anomastraea irregularis, a Vulnerable coral of the rocky intertidal zone of Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. Reef Conservation UK meeting at Zoological Society of London, 6 Dec 2014, London, UK.
Cassie Raker, Benjamin Cowburn, Victoria Sindorf, Peter Musembi, Benjamin Vanbaelenberghe, and Robert D Sluka. 2014. Anomastraea irregularis, a Vulnerable coral of the rocky intertidal zone of Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. The 43rd Annual Benthic Ecology Meeting, 19-22 March, Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
Victoria Sindorf and Benjamin Cowburn. 2014. Indian Ocean Rocky Intertidal Zone – An Important Nursery Habitat for Commercially Valuable Fish Species. 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting, 23-28 February, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Benjamin Cowburn, Victoria Sindorf, and Paul Simonin. 2013. Do minor bleaching events matter? Ecological observations from a localised event in Kenya, 2013. Reef Conservation UK meeting at Zoological Society of London, 7 Dec 2013, London, UK.