Ecological grief


Forum Staff
Oct 2010
Witnessing the Great Barrier Reef “go into meltdown in the space of a week” in early 2016 was a major shock for David Suggett, a coral physiologist at the University of Technology Sydney. “Nothing can prepare you for seeing it play out in real time,” he says.

I'm continuously sad over what humans are doing to this magnificent blue planet. At a time when the planet needs a global leader, a role the US is indeed well-positioned to assume, our environmental laws are being revoked relentlessly.

‘Ecological grief’ grips scientists witnessing Great Barrier Reef’s decline
When Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral-reef system, was hit by record-breaking marine heat waves that bleached two-thirds of it in 2016 and 2017, many researchers were left in a state of shock.​
Social scientist Michele Barnes witnessed this disaster first hand. She works at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville, which is adjacent to the reef. Barnes decided to interview scientists and others working on the reef to investigate their response to this climate-change-driven catastrophe.​
Barnes, who is still analysing her results, was surprised that many of the scientists whom she interviewed felt intense grief and sadness about the reef’s deterioration. Nature has also spoken to several coral-reef scientists not involved in Barnes’s study who echo those sentiments.​
“I now feel much more hopeless, and there’s a deeper anxiety breaking through,” says John Pandolfi, a marine ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Pandolfi has been studying ecosystem dynamics in the Great Barrier Reef for more than 30 years. The consecutive bleaching events that began in 2016 triggered mass death of the reef’s coral cover, which caused a dramatic shift in its species composition. Pandolfi is now investigating new configurations of species that have arisen because of human impacts.​
An emerging body of research shows that many people feel loss due to environmental degradation caused by global warming, a phenomenon called ‘ecological grief’. Although researchers are often on the front lines of ecosystem collapse, few studies have investigated the mental and emotional consequences of such work.​

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