[Coral-List] Is it Ocean Optimism or Toxic Positivity?

sealab at earthlink.net sealab at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 24 20:21:56 UTC 2020

Hi Rebecca,

Thank you for responding.

You are right that I was calling out “a small group of people”, but it wasn’t meant as an indictment of ALL who are “trying their damndest to save a few species” of corals.

I was more specifically calling out those whose outreach efforts appear to be strategically avoiding mention of the inescapable need to address major threats. How can we realistically maintain positivity for the future of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems when we have prominent, highly publicized and well-funded restoration projects steering clear of advocating for action on climate change, water-quality and over-fishing? That is, to some extent, my litmus test. I just don’t understand how they can claim to be working to “save coral reefs” while, by omission, undermining the need to act on local and global stressors.

Sincere regards,


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On 8/24/20, 12:24 PM, Rebecca Vega Thurber <rvegathurber at gmail.com> wrote:


Maybe we have been reading different Coral Lists, but from my reading I doubt anyone could classify the coral reef community of being anything but toxic NEGATIVE. Just because some of us refuse to give up doesn't make us Toxic Positive. The fact that you called out a small group of people who are trying their damndest to save a few species says a lot. -Becky

On Mon, Aug 24, 2020 at 4:47 AM Steve via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov (mailto:coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov)> wrote:

Dear Coral-Listers,

I recently came across an article in The Washington Post entitled Time To Ditch Toxic Positivity, Experts Say - It’s Okay Not To Be Okay. Although it was primarily referring to how people choose to deal with COVID19 and widespread social unrest, I saw a direct connection to the ways in which we choose to cope with our growing consternation over the unceasing demise of the world’s coral reefs.


We all know that when faced with adversity it can be beneficial to frame things in a way designed to keep spirits high, but can too much forced positivity be toxic? Could this somehow apply to coral science today? If we don’t put proper emphasis on what we know is killing coral reefs and instead choose to promote short-term successes, are we “shutting out the possibility for further contemplation”?

It seems that almost every day now I’m being bombarded by public outreach efforts that suggest that there are good reasons to believe that outplanting of genetically modified corals might be the solution to the coral reef crisis. As when forced to deal with negative emotions about the pandemic, everyone prefers to exude optimism, but psychologists warn that it can be problematic when people profess positivity in situations where it’s not natural or realistic (like when coral reefs are dying worldwide) or when there are problems that legitimately need to be addressed (like water quality; over-fishing; and climate change) and you choose instead to deflect attention away from major stressors onto something more rosy (like our outplanted corals are spawning!).

So, I’m wondering, is anybody else concerned that this form of ocean optimism, though comforting and reassuring, may prove counterproductive in that it could delay the development of real solutions for the most critical issues at hand, or, is this just an indication that I have morphed into a dispirited old curmudgeon?


Steve Mussman

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Dr. Rebecca Vega Thurber (she/her)

Associate Professor of Microbiology

Oregon State University

454 Nash Hall

Corvallis OR 97331-3804, U.S.A

541-737-1851 (office) 541-737-0496 (FAX)

rvegathurber at gmail.com (mailto:rvegathurber at gmail.com);Rebecca.Vega-Thurber at oregonstate.edu (mailto:Rebecca.Vega.Thurber at oregonstate.edu)

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