Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David Himmelgreen

Co-Major Professor

Rebecca Zarger


environmental change, environmental groups, stress, water


The purpose of this research project is to understand how local environmental destruction in Tampa Bay, Florida, including changes in water resources and development activities, affects local Tampa Bay residents mentally and emotionally. The study also examines residents' personal connections with their landscape and documents the degree of stress that may be caused by experiencing environmental destruction through the use of interviews, freelists, and two psychometric stress scales (Hopkins Symptom Checklist-10 and the Environmental Distress Scale). The topic of emotional distress and environmental change has rarely been studied in social science research, particularly in the United States and with regards to changing water ecosystems. The residents sampled for the study are members of five different environmental organizations in the Tampa Bay area, purposively sampled in order to better understand the unexplored topic of environmental change and emotional distress. The 21 research participants completed a semi-structured interview, freelist, and stress scales. The qualitative results show that the residents sampled have longstanding and cherished relationships with their natural environment, stemming from childhood. Participants also report experiencing emotional/mental distress due to local environmental change, particularly from habitat destruction, development, and changing water resources. Also, the stress scale results, particularly the results from the Environmental Distress Scale, complement the qualitative interview results by quantitatively highlighting areas of high distress, including distress experienced due to unwelcomed development, sprawl, and stress associated with changing wetlands and lakes. Many of the research participants cope with the environmental stressors they experience by participating in environmental activities and groups. Although focusing on these participants limits the extent to which the results can be generalized to the general public, the results signal that the unexplored topic of emotional and mental distress tied to local environmental change is an important one that needs to be explored further by anthropologists and other social scientists. The results from this exploratory study show that residents are in fact being emotionally affected by environmental change in their local environment. The results presented here may help to create a much-needed dialogue between residents and policy makers over planning for development. These exploratory findings, especially if demonstrated on a larger scale through further research, should be taken into consideration by policy makers when making decisions about development and water management activities that may harm ecosystems in Tampa Bay, Florida, and affect residents mentally and emotionally.