Sen. James Sanders delivers annual ‘Tuvalu Challenge’ address from the waters off Rockaway Beach to cap Earth Day celebration

State Senator James Sanders delivers his annual “Tuvalu Challenge” address for the surf at Rockaway Beach to cap his Earth Day celebration.
Photo courtesy of James Sanders’ office

State Senator James Sanders Jr. hosted his annual Earth Day celebration in the Rockaways on Saturday, Apr. 20, highlighted by his “Tuvalu Challenge” address, delivered while standing in the surf off Beach 86th Street with like-minded community leaders.

For the third year in a row, Sanders delivered his speech in the Atlantic Ocean to commemorate a similar address by Foreign Minister Simon Kofe of the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu on Nov. 5, 2021, to dramatize the plight of his endangered country from climate change by standing in the ocean.

“Time is no longer a bystander in our fight against climate change; it’s the rallying cry echoing through every community,” Sanders said. “Our urgency is not just global; it’s deeply local. Each action we take, every decision we make within our own neighborhoods, reverberate globally.”

Photo courtesy of James Sanders’ office

The day began with a well-attended breakfast reception, where participants networked and discussed environmental solutions, followed by a community tree planting initiative to make a positive environmental impact on the local area. The day culminated with Sanders’ “Call for Climate Change Action,” delivering a unified message about the need for immediate and sustained efforts to address the climate crisis.

Photo courtesy of James Sanders’ office

“Let’s embrace this urgency as a beacon of hope, igniting grassroots movements and empowering communities to champion sustainable change, for the health of our planet and the prosperity of our localities,” Sanders said.

Photo courtesy of James Sanders’ office

Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers noted that the residents of the Rockaways have seen in recent years the major threat climate change poses to New York City, with its 520 miles of waterfront, which is more than Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined.

“Studies suggest the Rockaways may be permanently inundated with water by 2080 if coastal protections are not put in place, which is why we must prioritize opportunities to enact sustainable change through proactive legislation and collective actions,” Brooks-Powers said. “Senator Sanders continues to be an essential voice in our fight against climate change, and I appreciate his efforts to bring us together today to uplift this critical issue.”

Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman said the Earth Day celebration and the Tuvalu Challenge serves as a reminder of the responsibility to protect and preserve the planet for future generations by highlighting the critical need for climate action and community involvement.

“By coming together, we can harness the collective power to address climate change and create a sustainable future,” Hyndman said. “Let’s seize this opportunity to make a meaningful difference for our planet and all who call it home.”

Lou Harris joined Sanders in the surf and called the Tuvalu Challenge a teachable moment for children. Harris founded the East Coast chapter of the Black Surfing Association in 2016, a decade after he moved to the Rockaways from Harlem.

“I want our message to reach as many kids as possible,” Harris said. “I want kids to know how they can stop the effects of climate change, by unplugging plugs they’re no longer using and also when mailing a package using as little tape as possible.”

Jonathan Cohen, the policy director of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association, also joined Sanders in the surf and called sea level rise an existential threat to New York’s coastal communities.

“Our best hope to mitigate that threat is to ensure that our most vulnerable communities can access clean energy resources like solar and energy storage.” Cohen said. “Our members are deeply grateful to Senator Sanders for shining a light on this critically important issue, and for consistently calling for bold actions to make the benefits of clean energy accessible to everyone. The communities of Southeast Queens are safer and healthier because of Senator Sanders’ leadership, and I’m proud to stand by him today.”