Phoenix Island

Written by Kate Bosco

More than thirty people took a journey together one Sunday in January, from chilly Sherborn to the beautiful south Pacific. Peter Gawne, an aquarist from the New England Aquarium, brought the voyagers to the secluded Phoenix Island Protected Area. The visitors marveled at pristine waters, colorful reefs and fantastic schools of tropical fish. And they returned to Sherborn within an hour.

Aerial photo of Phoenix Island

Gawne’s talk was sponsored by UUAC’s Environmental Action Group, which has been spreading awareness of environmentalism and climate change since 2010. This is just one of the events that the team has organized for the education of the UUAC community. In five short years, the EAG has accomplished many things. Bringing the South Pacific to New England is just one of them.

Alliance Hall held nearly the population of the Phoenix Islands (32 in Sherborn, 34 on PIPA) for the talk. They learned about the history of this clean, remote chain of islands, and the threats that they are facing. The islands, a four to five day boat trip from the nearest ports, were declared a Marine Preserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, but they still experience the effects of pollution and global warming. Reefs are damaged by iron-leaching shipwrecks and warming waters. That in turn affects the populations of fish and other organisms that depend on the reefs for shelter and food. Invasive species, such as rats, affect the ground nesting seabirds on the various islands. Turtles also depend on the integrity of island beaches for breeding.

But the EAG is also focused on home. They began as the Zero Waste Team, and have made many efforts to reduce the UUAC’s waste output. This includes starting the church composting program, which turns food waste into excellent planting soil. They are also behind the simplification of food served at coffee hour, to reduce the use of disposable plates and utensils, as well as coffee hour’s switch to ceramic mugs. Currently, they are working on installing LED light bulbs. According to Claire Galkowski, there are more than 400 lightbulbs in the church, and if all are switched to LEDs, there will be a 50% reduction in energy. The EAG collaborated on the installation of solar panels, as well. These panels provide one-third of the energy that UUAC consumes.

Being conscious of the environment is an everyday thing for the EAG. Member Joan Hunter-Brody has been saving scraps to recycle since she can remember. Even their meetings are ecologically friendly. Every other month, they are held as a phone conference to help save on the carbon footprint. Alison Murchison hands out an agenda printed on a half sheet of paper, because “that’s all we need.”

They also are passionate about teaching others. Jan Galkowski, who has hosted talks on climate change before, is always looking to educate: “I’m always trying to bridge the great gap between the science and trying to communicate it in a readily understandable and meaningful way.”

There’s activism also. They have participated in rallies and marches against climate change, and protests against a natural gas pipeline extension. The team introduced the idea of divesting from fossil fuel investments, and educated congregants on the policy. UUAC is now in the process of selling their fossil fuel shares in favor of cleaner energy.

There’s a lot in the works for the future. UUAC will share the collection plate with PIPA in honor of Earth Day. The group is also planning a family outing in the spring. More talks and trips to climate action rallies are on the table as well.

For more information on the EAG’s recent projects, visit our web page.