Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

More Than Decimated
distributed 4/25/03 - ©2003

"Decimate" is a harsh word with a brutal history. If a legion of the Roman army mutinied, one out of every 10 soldiers in the rebellious group was executed. The victims were selected at random to punish the entire unit, and to drive home the message of loyalty.

Today, the word is used to refer to the indiscriminate killing of a large percentage of a group, especially when the slaughter is intentional -- as with the German holocaust.

But the harshness and brutality of that word doesn't even begin to touch what is happening to some parts of the natural world.

In just the last 25 years, the population of one species of sea turtle has been reduced by 95%. This is not the killing of 1 in 10 in a local group, but the loss of 95 out of every 100 members of an entire species.

The harsh word of "decimate" is inadequate in describing that sort of slaughter.

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An action campaign now underway has raised my awareness about the dire situation of Pacific Leatherback sea turtles, and some of the practices that are pushing them rapidly toward extinction. It also offers an easy and effective way to stop the slaughter.

The Pacific Leatherback is the world's largest sea turtle -- weighing almost a ton, and growing to over 9 feet in length. As the name suggests, this turtle does not have a shell, but instead has a leathery carapace.

In 1980, the population of leatherback turtles was estimated at 91,000. There are now only 5,000 of the turtles left. All seven species of sea turtles are now endangered and are protected under national laws and international treaties.

Sea turtles are the innocent victims of accidental "bycatch." Industrial fishing practices that are intended to harvest tuna and swordfish also catch sea turtles, along with unintended species of fish, and seabirds. The fishing fleets treat bycatch as waste, and vast numbers of the dead and dying creatures are simply dumped overboard.

Sea turtles are often caught by fleets using longline fishing. A fishing line up to 60 miles long is reeled off from the boats, with thousands of hooks along the line. The process is non-selective: it catches anything that bites at the bait, or is tangled in the line. 40,000 sea turtles (of various endangered species) are caught and killed each year by this wasteful fishing method.

Experts say that the sea turtle population can still recover, if action is taken NOW to stop longline fishing.

The action campaign that educated me on this issue is urging the United Nations to impose a ban on longline fishing. They are asking concerned people from around the world to write to Secretary General Kofi Annan in support of this ban.

To be most effective, the coordinating agency should receive your letter by May 1. (Admit it! If you put off writing the letter, you won't ever get around to it!)

Details on addresses and information to include in your letter to the UN can be found at the website of Global Response ( Or, send an e-mail to Eco-Justice Ministries ( with a subject line of "Turtles" and I'll send a return e-mail with all the details.

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I highly recommend Global Response to churches, families and individuals that want to engage in effective eco-justice action.

Global Response is an international letter-writing network for environmental action. At the request of indigenous, environmentalist, and human rights organizations around the world, Global Response develops "actions" that describe specific, urgent threats to the environment. Each action asks members to write personal letters to individuals in corporations, governments and financial institutions that have the power and the responsibility to prevent environmental destruction.

Over the years, Global Response has had an astonishing 44% success rate with their letter writing campaigns.

The Global Response actions often demonstrate the basic contention of eco-justice. In naming problems and in working for solutions, they show that there are clear connections between environmental degradation and the health of human communities.

Their actions are produced in three forms -- one for adults, another for children in grades 3-8, and another for high school students. A Sunday School class, the youth group, and adults at the fellowship hour can all take part in the letter writing.

Writing letters based on the Global Response actions is a wonderful way for concerned people to participate in manageable and effective strategies that make a real difference.

I urge you to check the Global Response website for more information on their excellent program, and to contact Eco-Justice Ministries about ways to weave this sort of education and action into the life of your congregation. And I especially urge you to write a letter to the UN, calling for a ban on longlines fishing.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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