Who cares about the Great Barrier Reef? Many people, and according to a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, some of the most passionately connected  individuals can come from far away places, across the globe.

Effective environmental policy requires public participation in management, typically achieved through engaging community defined by residential location or resource use. However, current social and environmental change, particularly increasing connectedness, demands new approaches to community.

The study, led by Georgina Gurney, involved interviews with more than 5,000 people from 40 countries and found that where you live, doesn’t necessarily determine what you care about.  In fact, the data suggests that people living near or far from the Reef can develop equally strong feelings of attachment to the large and iconic World Heritage site.

This is good news for the Reef. Blighted by bleaching, the Great Barrier Reef needs all the help it can get. The findings published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that resource managers should draw on the support of the global community, not only locals living adjacent to the Reef, when engaging the public.

The study draws on place attachment theory to redefine community in the context of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Using a large dataset on place attachment, the analysis of local, national, and international stakeholders identified four communities differing in their attachment to the reef and spanning location and use communities. Results suggest that place attachment can bridge geographic and social boundaries, and communities of attachment could thus be leveraged to foster transnational stewardship, which is crucial to addressing modern sustainability challenges in our globalized world. For the many ecosystems that are increasingly affected by global-scale threats, such as climate change, these results are empowering.

We need to look beyond our backyards for solutions to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Climate change, for example, is one of the biggest threats to the Reef and tackling it requires the support of the global community, not only those living close to the Reef.

Gurney, G. G., Blythe, J., Adams, H., Adger, W. N., Curnock, M., Faulkner, L., et al. (2017). Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1712125114

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