A team of scientists led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) won one of the nation’s top science awards at tonight’s ‘Oscars of Australian science’, the Eureka Prizes.
Professor Josh Cinner leads Social-Ecological Research Frontiers, the winner of the 2020 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. The international team includes scientists from seven Australian institutions, with Dr Michele Barnes, Dr Jacqui Lau, Dr Georgina Gurney, Professor Andy Hoey and PhD candidate Jessica Zamborain Mason rounding out the Coral CoE team.
“We study coral reefs bucking the trend and thriving despite climate change, over-fishing and pollution,” Prof Cinner said. “Some coral reefs have surprisingly high amounts of fish despite high human pressures. We call these reefs ‘bright spots’.”
Studying bright spots can help inform new solutions to tackle the decline of reefs worldwide. The team used a blend of social science, ecology and other disciplines to identify and learn more about these unique areas.
“Coral reefs are in crisis. We’re not going to get out of this crisis by doing more of the same,” Dr Barnes said.
She says the aim of their research was to learn from places doing things differently, by uncovering how they withstood the pressures that caused other places to collapse. These lessons are then applied to reef conservation and management in other areas.
The Social-Ecological Research Frontiers team conducted more than 6000 surveys on 2500 reefs across 46 countries.
The insights from the team’s past four years of research would have been impossible within a single discipline—uncovering and understanding bright spots required intense interdisciplinary collaboration.
“To be clear, bright spots aren’t necessarily ‘pristine’ reefs,” Prof Cinner said. “These reefs are doing better than they should be given the pressures they face—reefs that are ‘punching above their weight’.”
The results directly inform the development of fisheries management and conservation.
“Investments that support local involvement and strengthen ownership rights can foster creative solutions to help communities defy anticipated reef degradation,” Dr Lau said.
The team say while the best way to help coral reefs is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, the team hopes their work can also foster a new way of confronting the coral reef crisis.
“We hope it provides inspiration for coral reef researchers who are tired of writing obituaries,” Dr Gurney said.
“I am very honoured to accept this Eureka Prize on behalf of our team and proud of our collaboration and what we’ve achieved by working together,” Prof Cinner said.
The Australian Museum (AM) Eureka Prizes are Australia’s leading science awards. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the awards, which were held as a live, digital event with 51 finalists across 17 prizes on the evening of Tuesday 24 November 2020.
International collaboration Social-Ecological Research Frontiers won the 2020 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. The team was led by Coral CoE's Prof Josh Cinner (top left) and included Coral CoE collaborators Dr Michele Barnes (top right), Dr Georgina Gurney (middle left), Prof Andy Hoey (middle right), Dr Jacqui Lau (bottom left) and PhD candidate Jessica Zamborain Mason (bottom right)..