Reef Grief: investigating the relationship between place meanings and place change on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Abstract : It is well established that ecosystems bring meaning and well-being to individuals, often articulated through attachment to place. Degradation and threats to places and ecosystems have been shown to lead to loss of well-being. Here, we suggest that the interactions between ecosystem loss and declining well-being may involve both emotional responses associated with grief, and with observable impacts on mental health. We test these ideas on so-called ecological grief by examining individual emotional response to well-documented and publicized ecological degradation: coral bleaching and mortality in the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. The study focuses both on one off events of coral loss and the prospect of continuing decline on the self-reported well-being of residents living within the ecosystem, visitors, and those whose livelihood is dependent on the marine resource: data from face-to-face surveys of 1870 local residents, 1804 tourists, and telephone surveys of 91 fishers and 94 tourism operators. We hypothesise that the extent to which individuals experience ecological grief is dependent on the meanings or intrinsic values (such as aesthetic, scientific, or biodiversity-based values), and is moderated by their place attachment, place identity, lifestyle dependence, place-based pride, and derived well-being. Results show that around half of residents, tourists and tourist operators surveyed, and almost one quarter of fishers, report significant Reef Grief. Reef Grief is closely and positively associated with place meanings within resident and tourist populations. By contrast respond- ents who rated high aesthetic value of the coral ecosystem report lower levels of Reef Grief. These findings have significant implications for how individuals and populations experience ecosystem decline and loss within places that are meaningful to them. Given inevitable cumulative future impacts on ecosystems from committed climate change impacts, understand- ing and managing ecological grief will become increasingly important. This study seeks to lay conceptual and theoretical foundations to identify how ecological grief is manifest and related to meaningful places and the social distribution of such grief across society.
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Submitted on : Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 3:47:48 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - 7:10:52 AM

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Nadine Marshall, William Neil Adger, Claudia Benham, Katrina Brown, Matthew I Curnock, et al.. Reef Grief: investigating the relationship between place meanings and place change on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Sustainability Science, Springer Verlag (Germany), 2019, 14 (3), pp.579-587. ⟨10.1007/s11625-019-00666-z⟩. ⟨hal-02138180⟩

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