It was my dream gig.
I was on the remote island Dyiigurra, 150 miles north-east off the coast of Cairns in Queensland, filming marine scientists researching on the Great Barrier Reef with several colleagues. The weather was perfect and underwater visibility was crystal clear. Four days in paradise doing what I love.
We packed our lunch and cameras and set off in a dinghy with two Swiss marine scientists. They were working with the Australian Museum to document the behaviours of bottom feeder fish. Our job was to document the scientists’ experiences with coral bleaching.
While the scientists began setting up for the day, they suggested we take the time to go for a snorkel. This would allow us to get some b-roll footage of the coral and critters. Then we could do interviews at morning tea.
I asked them if they knew any parts of the reef with bleached coral. They looked at me with blank faces. “It’s everywhere,” one of them said.
We’d chosen to film on Dyiigurra because of reports that two cyclones and seasonal bleaching had severely damaged the Island’s reef. So I was prepared for the worst. But what I witnessed that day blew my mind.
It was a disaster. Dead, broken, algae-ridden coral layered the ocean floor. The spookiest thing of all was that there were very few fish. You didn’t have to be a scientist to realise that there was something desperately wrong with the reef.
After several minutes snorkelling about, I felt the need to compose myself before I began filming the destruction. Upon surfacing I heard hollowed whimpering. It was my boss crying through their snorkel. Another colleague was floating on her back, face to the sky, silently processing the scene she’d just witnessed.
We counselled one another throughout the day. Seeing such mass devastation first hand had a numbing effect. It was unspoken, but we were all thinking the same thing; “How can we make a difference when it’s so far gone?”
Instead of wallowing in despair, we made a conscious effort to focus on small glimmers of hope. A scientist on Dyiigurra had taken us to a dive site where young corals appeared to be regenerating. This story of recovery brought hope, and hope is always worth sharing.
Fast forward two years. The mining and burning of fossil fuels in Australia is on the rise. While the Great Barrier Reef, supposedly a national icon, remains in peril from the actions of big polluters.
How do storytellers share the harrowing impacts of coral bleaching, bush fires, floods, droughts and heatwaves whilst also generating enough hope to compel people to act? For me, the answer lies in shared values. Clean air, safe jobs, sustainable living or the simple love of music.
Many media outlets continue to practice a “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality when it comes to sharing disaster stories. This fear-based storytelling is effective, because it provokes an emotional response.
Don’t get me wrong, emotional connection is incredibly important. Hearing my boss cry through their snorkel was a blessing to know that others feel exactly the same way as me. But in order to facilitate positive change, we need stories that couple emotions with solutions based on shared values, as this will hopefully galvanise people to take action.
For some excellent examples of solutions-based journalism check out the Solutions Journalism Network.