Abstract: The continuing and rapid global decline of coral reefs calls for new approaches to sustain reefs and the millions of people who depend on them. In this talk, I present a ‘work in progress’ aimed at rethinking reef conservation along two lines. First is directly confronting the drivers of change. In addition to environmental factors, there are socioeconomic drivers that influence the condition of coral reef ecosystems, though reef governance rarely focus on explicitly managing these. My colleagues and I analysed data from >2500 reef sites worldwide to quantify how key socioeconomic and environmental drivers are related to reef fish biomass, a key indicator of ecosystem condition and resource availability. Our global analysis reveals that the strongest driver of reef fish biomass is our metric of potential interactions with urban centres (market gravity), with important, but smaller, roles of local management, human demographics, socioeconomic development, and environmental conditions. These results highlight multiple underutilized policy levers that could help to sustain coral reefs, such as dampening the negative impact of markets. Second, drawing on theory and practice in human health and rural development, we use a positive deviance (bright spots) analysis to systematically identify coral reefs that have substantially higher biomass than expected, given their socioeconomic and environmental conditions. These ‘bright spots’ may provide an untapped opportunity to learn how societies have maintained coral reef resources in the face of strong drivers of change. Uncovering the mechanisms that underpin the ability of bright spots to confront high pressures may form a basis for novel policy approaches.
Bio: Professor Josh Cinner’s research explores how social, economic, and cultural factors influence the ways in which people use, perceive, and govern natural resources, with a particular emphasis on using applied social science to inform coral reef management. His background is in human geography and he often works closely with ecologists to uncover complex linkages between social and ecological systems. He has worked on human dimensions of resource management in Jamaica, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Mauritius, Seychelles, Indonesia, Mozambique, and the USA. Josh holds an ARC Australian Research Fellowship and is a recipient of the 2015 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation.