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Extreme events, loss, and grief—an evaluation of the evolving management of climate change threats on the Great Barrier Reef

Lisa C Walpole, Alluvium Consulting; International Water Centre
Wade L Hadwen, School of Environment and Science; Australian Rivers Institute; Griffith Climate Action Beacon; Griffith University


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Coral reefs across the world have demonstrated an incredible resilience to disturbance, having persisted for over 200 million years withstanding local, short-term shocks such as cyclones and bleaching events, as well as large-scale, long-term global changes such as sea-level fluctuations. However, there are now many persistent and growing threats to the health and productivity of global reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), including water temperature change and subsequent coral bleaching, invasive species, severe weather events, and water quality degradation. Among these, it is widely acknowledged that climate change is the greatest threat to the GBR, with the GBR Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) releasing a position statement on climate change in 2019, compellingly arguing the urgent need for climate change action for the GBR. For the past two decades, researchers have strongly emphasized the need for vigorous implementation of management strategies that support global reef resilience. This study provides a critical review of the response to this call to action and the barriers and opportunities for implementing transformative resilience actions across a range of social-ecological and natural resource management contexts. Bringing the concepts of environmental grief and resilience thinking together, this study reflects on how back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016–2017 have changed the framing of GBR management. However, there is more work to be done to ensure that all actors responsible for GBR management accept and embrace change in order to enable transformative resilience, which, for an environment feeling the heat of climate and non-climate pressures, will maintain at least some of their critical environmental, social, and economic values.

Key words

climate change; environmental grief; Great Barrier Reef; resilience

Copyright © 2022 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087