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

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Georgina Gurney

Georgina Gurney

Senior Research Fellow: Environmental Social Science

APEC ASPIRE Prize - Australia's nominee (2022)
International Coral Reef Society Early Career Scientist Award (2022)
Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow (2021-)
Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (2020-)
Fulbright Future Fellow (2019)
Wildlife Conservation Society Impact Fellow (2018)
Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (2016-2019)

PhD (2016), BSc with with 1st Class Honours (2009)

James Cook University

As this centre is closing down in Dec 2022, this website is no longer actively managed. Please visit my JCU profile.

I am an environmental social scientist, and my research integrates geography, sociology and psychology to examine environmental governance, in particular, governance of conservation and sustainability initiatives in marine and coastal systems. 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 from the environment and development sectors. Most of my research has focused on coral reef systems in the Asia-Pacific region (particularly in Australia, Indonesia, and Fiji). Some of my recent transdisciplinary research on coral reef conservation was profiled by Nature in an article on research related to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 Life Below Water.

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 visit at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. I commenced my Discovery Early Career Research (DECRA) Fellowship, awarded by the Australia Research Council, in 2021. This Fellowship focuses on fairness in conservation and sustainability initiatives, and aims to advance understanding of what is considered fair by local stakeholders and rightsholders, 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 management tools. The project is being implemented through a transdisciplinary research process, involving ~30 academics, practitioners and policymakers working in conservation, sustainability and development.

In 2018, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Society of Conservation Biology’s (SCB) Social Science Working Group. I currently co-lead the JEDI Committee at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which I co-founded in 2020. I serve as an Associate Editor for Sustainability Science and People and Nature.

Research Program

Google Scholar profile

My current research program has three broad themes:

(1) The sociocultural and institutional drivers of collaborative governance of conservation and sustainability initiatives.

To deliver benefits to nature and people, conservation and sustainability initiatives tend to require collaborative governance approaches that involve and are led by stakeholders and rightsholders. 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 the context 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 sociocultural and institutional drivers operating at multiple levels, including the individual (e.g. attitudes, beliefs), group (e.g. group heterogeneity), and broader institutional (e.g. global conservation policy, institutional history) and social-ecological contextual (e.g. market access) levels. 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 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 social and ecological outcomes of conservation and sustainability initiatives.

Conservation 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 and poverty) 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).

An ongoing core component of my 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 practitioners’ 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.

(3) Justice in conservation and sustainability science, policy and practice.

Justice in conservation and sustainability research, policy, and practice is not only an ethical imperative, but also instrumental to addressing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of global sustainability challenges. However, understanding of what constitutes fair decision-making and outcomes in sustainability and conservation, and how they can be promoted remains nascent. Cross-cutting the previous two research themes, this expanding area of my work involves research on the procedural, distributional and recognitional dimensions of justice, with a particular focus on fairness perceptions. My collaborators and I examine how these three key dimensions can be fostered in conservation and sustainability policy and practice, including through emerging global conservation policy on Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), and attention to the dynamics and plurality of fairness perceptions. Our work on distributional equity has focused on conservation outcome equality and how it trade-offs of with biodiversity and fisheries objectives, and perceived fairness of alternative outcome distributions and how perceptions relate to conservation support. Recently, we developed a framework for advancing procedural justice in conservation and sustainability practice.

To advance justice in conservation and sustainability science, my work involves research and advocacy related to how science is undertaken and by whom. For example, my collaborators and I have examined gender and geographic trends in authorship of coral reef science. I have been involved in several initiatives to promote Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in research, including the JEDI Committee associated with the Society of Conservation Biology’s Social Science Working Group, as well as the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies JEDI Committee, which I co-founded and co-lead.


Current postdoctoral fellow, students and mentees
Past postdoctoral fellow, students and mentees

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.

Ruano-Chamorro, C., G. Gurney, J. Cinner. 2022. Advancing procedural justice in conservation. Conservation Letters.

Grorud-Colvert, K., J. Sullivan-Stack, C. Roberts, V. Constant, …, G. Gurney, … J. Lubchenco. 2021. The MPA Guide: A framework to achieve global goals for the ocean. Science 373 (6560): eabf0861.

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).

Ahmadia, G., S. Cheng, D. Andradi-Brown, S. Baez, M. Barnes, N. Bennett, S. Campbell, E. Darling, Estradivari, D. Gill, E. Gress, G. Gurney et al. 2021. Limited progress in improving gender and geographic representation in coral reef science. Frontiers in Marine Science 8: 1334.

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.

Chaigneau, T., L. Camfield, S.Coulthard, T. Daw, C. Hicks, L. Jones, N. Matthews, C. Mcquistan, L. Szaboova, T. Chapin, D. Gasper, G. Gurney, M. Ibrahim, T. James, B. Reyers, S. White, K. Brown. 2021. Reconciling wellbeing and resilience in sustainable development. Nature Sustainability 1-7.

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.

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., Pressey, R.L., Ban, N.C., Álvarez‐Romero, J.G., Jupiter, S. and Adams, V.M., 2015. Efficient and equitable design of marine protected areas in Fiji through inclusion of stakeholder-specific objectives in conservation planning. Conservation Biology 29(5), pp.1378-1389.

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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