Great Barrier Grief – Communities Worry For The Reef’s Future, Scientists Urge Government To Listen

Source: Hakai Magazine/Gemma Conroy 

Photo: Camille Gerstenhaber/Wikimedia Commons 

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Nadine Marshall is trained as an ecologist, and she’s an expert on the Great Barrier Reef. But recently, her work has picked up an unexpected new element: crisis counseling.

“People tell me about their childhoods spent spearfishing in clear blue waters, but now the water is murky and the fish have gone,” says Marshall, a senior social scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. In just three years, the Great Barrier Reef has undergone a steep decline, with marine heatwaves bleaching two-thirds of its corals. She says that “the sense of loss is very real, but people don’t have an outlet where they can express their feelings.” So they call her.

There’s a name for the growing sense of despair some people are experiencing as they see the natural world deteriorate around them: ecological grief. Similar to other forms of bereavement, ecological grief can range from sadness and hopelessness to anger and post-traumatic stress. Whether communities face melting sea icea disappearing glacier, or brutal drought, ecological grief is quietly taking hold as climate change alters the land and sea.

Governments are not acknowledging the emotional side effects of environmental catastrophe, says Joshua Cinner from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, who studies how communities manage coral reefs. “Cost-benefit analyses are often based solely on the economic value of different activities, but emotional well-being is not considered in the costs.”

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Photo: Camille Gerstenhaber/Wikimedia Commons

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