Tourists surveyed expressed a state of mourning, or
Tourists surveyed expressed a state of mourning, or "reef grief” with many having witnessed, or heard about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Grief: Tourists experience 'ecological grief'

WHEN almost 5000 tourists where asked to give their first thoughts on the Great Barrier Reef, the words many chose were "fragile", "disappointing", "pollution", "ruined", "destruction", "damage", "change" and "danger".

It's a phenomenon the researchers from CSIRO, James Cook University, The University of Queensland and Griffith University have described as "ecological grief" over the reef's future.

In a report released on Tuesday researchers have compared surveys of 4681 domestic and international tourists in 2013 with those four years later in 2017.

Using data collected by the Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program for the Great Barrier Reef, researchers found an increase in negative emotions - such as sadness, disgust, anger and fear -when tourists described the reef and its future.

 

The Great Barrier Reef is the heart of Airlie Beach/Whitsunday region.
The Great Barrier Reef is the heart of Airlie Beach/Whitsunday region.

Tourists expressed to researchers a state of mourning, or "reef grief" with many having witnessed, or heard about the damage to the natural icon.

For the tourists, the Great Barrier Reef had become a visible symbol of the effects of climate change, the report said.

During the four years, there was an 11 per cent increase in the number of tourists who said climate change was the biggest threat to the reef, from 40 per cent to 51 per cent.

In 2017, almost a quarter of tourists said climate change was an immediate threat requiring action. This was up from just 56 per cent of tourists who said the same thing in 2013.

 

Aerial view of Hardy Reef, home to the Heart Reef, in the Great Barrier Reef.These images were taken on 20 June 2017 by a drone to assess if the Heart Reef has been bleached.
Aerial view of Hardy Reef, home to the Heart Reef, in the Great Barrier Reef.These images were taken on 20 June 2017 by a drone to assess if the Heart Reef has been bleached. WWF-Aus / Christian Miller

Half of tourists also said pollution and marine debris was a major threat in 2017.

While tourists are more willing to learn about the threats to the reef, researchers found there was a growing sense of helplessness and pessimism about the future of the reef.

More tourists felt like their individual actions would not help combat the scale of the threats to the reef's ecosystem.

It's a feeling familiar to Mackay Dive Club organiser Terry Cox.

Mr Cox has been diving in the Mackay region for the past eight years . He said declining water visibility - due to run off from coal mines, farms and turbulence from cyclones - had left the reef in a sorry state.

"It covers it all in a film of silt," he said.

"Every year that I'm here it seems to be getting worse and worse".

 

ARC Centre researchers says reefs off Mackay (like the one pictured) are lightly bleached and remain in relatively good condition, but the northern 700km section of the Great Barrier Reef is badly damaged.
ARC Centre researchers says reefs off Mackay (like the one pictured) are lightly bleached and remain in relatively good condition, but the northern 700km section of the Great Barrier Reef is badly damaged. ARC Centre of Excellence.

As a passionate diver, Mr Cox said he felt helpless about the state of the reef.

"People have decided we want to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, but whether its too little too late to start I have no idea," he said.

He said everyone should try and be more responsible for their impact on the reef. The simple act of picking up rubbish and plastic could be a start.

"I don't know how much an individual can do, but they can certainly help," he said.

Despite his concerns for the region's marine ecosystem, Mr Cox was hopeful for the reef's future.

"Nature has its way of surviving."

But for tourists in the region, the responsibility for action lies with government and corporations, the research said.

"Community expectations of responsibility and capacity for addressing great threats such as climate change are located in the actions of governments and corporations, rather than their own actions," it said.

The data used in the report was collected, from July to August 2017 when there were low levels of bleached coral on the reef.

The Whitsundays had not yet recovered from the hammering during Cyclone Debbie, while coral ecosystems from Cairns to the far north were reacting to the 2016 coral bleaching event.

Despite fears from the industry, the negativity about the reef's future has not decreased visitor numbers, the report said.

Instead, the report said, the numbers have increased as visitors embark on "last chance tourism" as they travel to see the reef before it is gone or permanently changed.



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