People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Georgina Gurney

Georgina Gurney

Senior Research Fellow: Environmental Social Science

PhD (2016), BSc with Honours (2009)

James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 6483

My research examines collaborative governance of tropical marine and coastal ecosystems and has two key themes: (1) opportunities for collaborative governance of tropical marine and coastal ecosystems; and (2) the multiple sustainability outcomes of such initiatives. My research is interdisciplinary, drawing on human geography and sociology and involving collaborations with natural scientists. I have undertaken much of my research in the context of coral reef governance in Australia and the Asia-Pacific (Fiji, Indonesia, Philippines), often in partnership with environmental management practitioners.

I received my PhD from James Cook University in 2016 (for more details on my time as a graduate student please see this article), and am currently an Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville, Australia.

My current research program has two broad themes:

Opportunities for collaborative governance of tropical marine and coastal ecosystems

This theme of my research is concerned with understanding the factors affecting opportunities for collaborative governance of marine ecosystems, including examining why people engage in collective action in regards to management and how such cooperative activities are affected by the micro and macro social-ecological context. Research in this theme includes examining how multi-scale socioeconomic and institutional factors affect participation in co- management and cooperative behavioural disposition (as indexed by a public goods game). My current research includes examining the role of socioeconomic and cultural heterogeneity in influencing the likelihood of collaborative governance, including in relation to cooperative behavioural types (i.e. conditional cooperator, free rider etc), and how environmental policy and management practice can account for that heterogeneity when engaging civil society in stewardship and public participation. In regards to the latter, my recent research draws on place attachment theory to re-examine the notion of ‘community’ in environmental policy and management in the context of addressing contemporary sustainability challenges, which increasingly require transnational collaborative governance and stewardship given globalisation (related conference talk can be found here).

Outcomes of collaborative governance of tropical marine and coastal systems

A core focus of my research in this theme is evaluating how people are impacted by and respond to co-management. Projects have included evaluating the impacts of co-management on multidimensional poverty, including the equality of those impacts according to social subgroups, such as gender. Over the past two years I have been working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a social-ecological monitoring framework to be applied to coral reef sites; specifically, my role in the transdisciplinary process was to lead the development of the social indicators (more about this project can be found here). The framework has now been applied in seven countries and we have a number of projects in the pipeline drawing on the resulting data; these include examining distributional and procedural equity in regards to co-management and identifying the trade-offs and co-benefits among the multiple social and ecological outcomes of co-management (the topic of our NCEAS SNAPP working group).

Awards, honours & funding

Science for Nature and People Partnership working group grant (2019)
Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship (2019)
Elected board member of the Society for Conservation Biology Social Science Working Group (2018)
Queensland Tall Poppy Science Award (2018)
Australian Academy of Sciences and Engineering Young Science Ambassador Award (2018)
James Cook University Dean’s Award for PhD Excellence (2016)
Virginia Chadwick Outstanding Publication Award (2015)
CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund Fellowship (2012)




Marie Lapointe (2016-present, co-advising with G. Cumming) Trade-offs among ecosystem services in peri-urban and rural coastal communities

Kim Zoeller (2017-present, co-advising with G. Cumming and N. Marshall) Understanding the production of cultural ecosystem services and benefit

Cristina Ruano Chamorro (2018-present, co-advising with J.Cinner and S. Gelcich) Equity in fisheries co-management: determinants and social-ecological trade-offs

Patrick Smallhorn-West (2018-present, co-advising with G.Jones, T. Bridge, B. Pressey) Impact of community-based marine management in the Kingdom of Tonga


PhD: Jacqui Lau (2019)

Masters: Tracy MacKeracher (2017), Jeremy Horowitz (2016), Anushka Sandanam (2015)

Selected publications

For complete publication list see Google Scholar

Gurney, G., E. Darling, S. Jupiter, S. Mangubhai, T. McClanahan, P. Lestari, S. Pardede, S. Campbell, M. Fox, W. Naisilisili, N. Muthiga, S. D’agata, K. Holmes, N. Rossi. 2019Implementing a social-ecological systems framework for conservation monitoring: lessons from a multi-country coral reef program. Biological Conservation, 240108298. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632071931420X

Darling, E.S., McClanahan, T.R., Maina, J., Gurney, G., Graham, N.A., Januchowski-Hartley, F., Cinner, J.E., Mora, C., Hicks, C.C., Maire, E., Puotinen, M., et al., 2019. Social–environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Nature Ecology & Evolution, pp.1-10, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0953-8.

Lau, J.D., Hicks, C.C., Gurney, G. and Cinner, J.E., 2019. What matters to whom and why? Understanding the importance of coastal ecosystem services in developing coastal communities. Ecosystem Services35, pp.219-230, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2018.12.012.

Ban, N.C., Gurney, G.., Marshall, N.A., Whitney, C.K., Mills, M., Gelcich, S., Bennett, N.J., Meehan, M.C., Butler, C., Ban, S. and Tran, T.C., 2019. Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas. Nature Sustainability2(6), p.524, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0306-2.

Bellwood, D.R., Pratchett, M.S., Morrison, T.H., Gurney, G.., Hughes, T.P., Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Day, J.C., Grantham, R., Grech, A., Hoey, A.S., Jones, G.P., Pandolfi, J.M., Tebbett, S.B., Techera, E., Weeks, R., and Cumming, G. 2019. Coral reef conservation in the Anthropocene: confronting spatial mismatches and prioritizing functions. Biological Conservation, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.05.056.

Marshall, N., Adger, W.N., Benham, C., Brown, K., Curnock, M.I., Gurney, G., Marshall, P., Pert, P.L. and Thiault, L., 2019. Reef Grief: investigating the relationship between place meanings and place change on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Sustainability Science14(3), pp.579-587, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00666-z.

Bergseth, B.J., Gurney, G., Barnes, M.L., Arias, A. and Cinner, J.E., 2018. Addressing poaching in marine protected areas through voluntary surveillance and enforcement. Nature Sustainability1(8), p.421, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0117-x.

Cinner, J.E., Maire, E., Huchery, C., MacNeil, M.A., Graham, N.A., Mora, C., McClanahan, T.R., Barnes, M.L., Kittinger, J.N., Hicks, C.C., D’agata, S., Hoey, A., Gurney, G., et al., 2018. Gravity of human impacts mediates coral reef conservation gains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(27), pp. E6116-E6125, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708001115.

Gurney, G., Blythe, J., Adams, H., Adger, W.N., Curnock, M., Faulkner, L., James, T. and Marshall, N.A., 2017. Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences114(38), pp.10077-10082, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1712125114.

Diedrich, A., Stoeckl, N., Gurney, G., Esparon, M. and Pollnac, R., 2017. Social capital as a key determinant of perceived benefits of community-based marine protected areas. Conservation Biology31(2), pp.311-321, https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12808.

Gurney, G., Cinner, J.E., Sartin, J., Pressey, R.L., Ban, N.C., Marshall, N.A. and Prabuning, D., 2016. Participation in devolved commons management: multiscale socioeconomic factors related to individuals’ participation in community-based management of marine protected areas in Indonesia. Environmental Science & Policy61, pp.212-220, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2016.04.015.

Gurney, G., Pressey, R.L., Cinner, J.E., Pollnac, R. and Campbell, S.J., 2015. Integrated conservation and development: evaluating a community-based marine protected area project for equality of socioeconomic impacts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences370(1681), p.20140277, https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2014.0277.

Gurney, G., Cinner, J., Ban, N.C., Pressey, R.L., Pollnac, R., Campbell, S.J., Tasidjawa, S. and Setiawan, F., 2014. Poverty and protected areas: an evaluation of a marine integrated conservation and development project in Indonesia. Global Environmental Change26, pp.98-107, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.003.


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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au