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.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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 with 1st Class Honours (2009)

James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 6483

I am an environmental social scientist, and my research integrates theories and methods from human geography, political science and psychology to examine environmental governance, in particular, governance of conservation and natural resource management initiatives. The interdisciplinary approach I take to research often includes collaborations with biological scientists, and extends to a transdisciplinary approach, involving knowledge co-production with practitioners and policymakers. Most of my research has focused on coral reef governance in the Asia-Pacific region (particularly in Australia, Indonesia, and Fiji).

Since 2016, I have held an Environmental Social Science Fellowship at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, and am currently a Senior Research Fellow in the People and Ecosystems Program. In 2019, I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship supporting institutional visits with at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. I commenced my Discovery Early Career Research (DECRA) Fellowship, awarded by the Australia Research Council, in early 2021. This Fellowship focuses on fairness in conservation and resource management initiatives, and aims to advance understanding of what is considered fair by local stakeholders and the factors that shape those perceptions. I am currently co-leading a NCEAS Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) Working Group. Awarded in 2019, this grant supports our working group’s research on the co-benefits and trade-offs amongst the multiple social and ecological outcomes arising from different area-based conservation and resource management tools. The project is being undertaken using a transdisciplinary research process, involving ~30 academics, practitioners and policymakers working in conservation, resource management and sustainability, and whose collective expertise spans the biological and social sciences.

I have served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Conservation Biology’s (SCB) Social Science Working Group since I was elected in 2018, and am Chair of the Memberships Committee and a member of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. I currently co-lead the JEDI Committee at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which I co-founded in 2020. I am currently an editor of Sustainability Science and People and Nature.

Research Program

Google Scholar profile

My current research program has two broad themes:

(1) The first theme is concerned with understanding the sociocultural and institutional drivers affecting opportunities for collaborative governance of conservation and resource management initiatives. To deliver benefits to nature and people, conservation and resource management initiatives tend to require collaborative governance approaches that involve stakeholders, including resource users. However, key gaps remain in our understanding of the why people cooperate and form groups to engage in collective action for conservation and sustainability – this is especially true in light of accelerating global environmental and social change. To help address this research need my collaborators and I examine the drivers affecting individual decisions to cooperate and the emergence of group collective action. Specifically, we elucidate the sociocultural and institutional drivers operating at multiple scales, including the individual (e.g. attitudes, beliefs), group (e.g. institutional history, group heterogeneity), and broader social-ecological contextual scale (e.g. market access). A key focus of this research theme is understanding the role of place attachment and identity in collaborative governance, including how place identity is related to participation in conservation. In particular, in a recent paper we drew on place attachment theory to re-examine the concept of ‘community’ in environmental policy in the context of addressing contemporary sustainability challenges, which increasing require transnational collaborative governance given globalisation (see related conference talk).

(2) The second theme is concerned with the social and ecological outcomes of conservation, resource management and sustainability initiatives. Conservation, resource management and sustainability initiatives are social-ecological systems, with their outcomes and the drivers of those outcomes being both social and ecological. However, past research has tended to take a disciplinary approach, often focused on the ecological outcomes of area-based management and their biophysical drivers. To contribute to better understanding the outcomes of area-based conservation and resource management initiatives, my collaborators and I examine how area-based management (e.g. marine protected areas, including community-managed) affects people (e.g. with respect to multi-dimensional human wellbeing, poverty, social equity and equality) and how ecological outcomes (e.g. coral assemblages, reef fish biomass and diversity) are related to multi-scale sociocultural and institutional drivers (e.g. markets, management rules).

A core component of my current work in this theme is my transdisciplinary research on trade-offs and co-benefits among the multiple social and ecological outcomes of coral reef co-management. Drawing on theoretical and empirical literature on social-ecological systems, knowledge co-production, and common property, a key focus of this research has been developing a social-ecological systems monitoring framework for coral reef co-management through a transdisciplinary collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society. The framework was developed to be used by conservation and sustainability practitioners (see the social-ecological systems monitoring framework manual) and has been applied in seven countries. We are currently using these data to explore the co-benefits and trade-offs amongst the multiple social and ecological outcomes arising from different area-based conservation and resource management tools through our NCEAS Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) Coastal Outcomes Working Group Grant.

Awards, Honours & Fellowships


Current Students and Postdoctoral Fellows
Past Students

Selected Publications

For complete publication list see my Google Scholar profile

Gurney, G., Darling, E.S., Ahmadia, G., Agostini, V., Ban, N., Blythe, J., Claudet, J., Epstein, G., Estradivari, Himes-Cornell, A., Jonas, H., Armitage, D., Campbell, S., Cox, C., Friedman, W., Gill, D., Lestari, P., Mangubhai, S., McLeod, E., Muthiga, N., Naggea, J., Ranaivoson, R., Wenger, A., Yulianto, I., Jupiter, S. 2021. Biodviersity needs every tool in the  box: use OECMs. Nature 595: 646-649.

Gurney, G., Mangubhai, S., Fox, M., Kaitkoski Kim, M., Agrawal, A. 2021. Equity in environmental governance: perceived fairness of distributional justice principles in marine co-management. Environmental Science & Policy. 124(23-32).

Epstein, G., G. Gurney, S. Chawla, J. Anderies, J. Baggio, H. Unnikrishnan, S. Villamayor Tomas, G. Cumming. 2021. Drivers of compliance monitoring in forest commons. Nature Sustainability. 4:450-456.

Lau, J., G. Gurney, J. Cinner. 2021. Environmental justice in coastal systems: perspectives from communities confronting change. Global Environmental Change 66:02208.

Gurney, G., Marshall, N., Curnock, M., Pert, P., Thiault, L. 2021. Coral reef collapse and sense of place in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. In Raymond, C., Manzo, L., Williams, D., Di Masso, A., von Wirth, T. (Eds.), Changing Senses of Place: Navigating Global Challenges (pp. 21-31). Cambridge University Press.

Cinner, J., J. Zamborain-Mason, G. Gurney, et al., 2020. Meeting fisheries, ecosystem function, and biodiversity goals in a human-dominated world. Science 368(6488): 307-311.

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 240:108298. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108298

Darling, E.S., T. McClanahan, J. Maina, G. Gurney, et al., 2019. Social–environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3(9):1341-1350.

Cumming, G., M. Pratchett, G. Gurney. 2019. New and emerging directions in coral reef conservations. Biological Conservation 241:108372.

Ban, N.C., G. Gurney, N. Marshall, C. Whitney, M. Mills, S. Gelcich, N.J. Bennett, M.C. Meehan, C. Butler, S. Ban, T. C. Tran, 2019. Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas. Nature Sustainability 2(6): 524-532.

Bellwood, D., M. Pratchett, T. Morrison, G. Gurney, T. Hughes, J. Álvarez-Romero, J. Day, R. Grantham, A. Grech, A. Hoey, G.P. Jones, J. Pandolfi, S. Tebbett, E. Techera, R. Weeks, G. Cumming, 2019. Coral reef conservation in the Anthropocene: Confronting spatial mismatches and prioritizing functions. Biological Conservation 236:604-615.

Marshall, N., W. Adger, C., Benham, K. Brown, M. Curnock, G. Gurney, P. Marshall, P.L. Pert, L. Thiault, 2019. Reef Grief: Investigating the relationship between place meanings and place change on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Sustainability Science 14(3): 579-587.

Gurney, G., J. Blythe, H. Adams, W. Adger, M. Curnock, L. Faulkner, T. James, N.A. Marshall, 2017. Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(38):10077-10082.

Gurney, G., J. Cinner, J. Sartin, R. Pressey, N. Ban, N. Marshall, D. Prabuning, 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 & Policy 61:212-220.

Gurney, G., R. Pressey, J. Cinner, R. Pollnac, S. Campbell, 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 Sciences 370(1681): 20140277.

Gurney, G., J. Cinner, N. Ban, R. Pressey, R. Pollnac, S. Campbell, S. Tasidjawa, F. Setiawan, 2014. Poverty and protected areas: An evaluation of a marine integrated conservation and development project in Indonesia. Global Environmental Change 26: 98-107.


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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