Understanding community experiences of, and responses to, ecological grief and loss in the Great Barrier Reef

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are global concerns, but their impacts are experienced most acutely at the local scale, where people live, work, and form identities and attachments to the environment. In some cases, environmental losses can evoke feelings of ecological grief among local communities – emotional distress associated with losing important species, ecosystems or places. Ecological grief has recently been identified in a range of contexts, including among communities in the Great Barrier Reef. It appears most likely to occur when environmental losses happen quickly, or when species or ecosystems of high social or cultural importance are affected. 

This three year research project aims to understand how communities in the Reef experience and cope with environmental grief. The Reef is an iconic ecosystem, but climate change and other stressors threaten its resilience. Communities along the Reef coast are often highly dependent on and connected with local marine ecosystems, and are also experiencing other rapid social and economic changes such as the increasingly urgent need to transition away from resource-dependent industries. The project will examine how social factors such as place attachment and environmental values interact with broader environmental and institutional changes to shape community experiences of ecological grief and loss. The project will also examine how community-based deliberation and decision making processes help communities cope with ecological grief. This will be the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary study to understand how ecological grief influences community wellbeing and identify adaptive local responses.

The successful PhD student will play a key role in this research, leading a study on the role of community-based deliberation in shaping local responses to ecological grief. This study will involve quantitative and qualitative components (interviews, focus groups and surveys), and will be well-supported as part of the broader project.

The successful PhD candidate will work closely with the Chief Investigator to deliver this project, and will have significant scope to influence the design of their sub-project within the overall scope of the research.  The candidate will also have the opportunity to work with key research and governance stakeholders in the Reef, including CSIRO.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Dr Claudia Benham

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Email: c.benham@uq.edu.au

Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of field of deliberative democracy, social research methods, Traditional Owner and stakeholder engagement, or marine and coastal policy and governance would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of the environmental management and policy, marine and coastal resource management, human geography, political science, or marine biology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of social research and analysis methods using NVivo and SPSS (or similar) is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 3, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process