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How Coral Researchers Are Coping With the Death of Reefs

Ed Yong, writing for The Atlantic: The continuing desecration has taken an immense toll on the mental health of people like Colton, a director at Coral Reef Alliance, who have devoted their lives to studying and saving these ecosystems. How do you get up and go to work every day when every day brings fresh news of loss? “Are we going to lose an entire ecosystem on my watch? It’s demoralizing. It’s been really hard to find the optimism,” she says. “I think Miss Enthusiasm has gone away.” There was a time, just a few decades ago, when this crisis seemed unimaginable, when reefs seemed invincible. This catastrophe has unfolded slowly. […] But she also recognizes that she and other scientists are privileged. They care about reefs, but they’re not like the 450 million people around the world who rely on reefs for tourism revenue, food from fish, and protection against storms. For them, the losses are a daily reality. The last time Bette Willis, from James Cook University, went out to the Great Barrier Reef, the woman who ran her boat “would alternate between rants and depression,” she recalls. “She’s out there several times a week. She knows each coral. She could see her whole livelihood go down the drain.” Everyone I spoke to talked about becoming very good at compartmentalizing — at acknowledging the scale of the tragedy, but also putting it aside to focus on their work. “I don’t find it productive to be angry or depressed all the time. It’s corrosive, and it isn’t going to solve the problem,” says Knowlton. She is perhaps the poster child for ocean optimism, having created a movement called … Ocean Optimism.


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