Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) this week received two prestigious awards for their interdisciplinary work on solving environmental problems.
The Australian Academy of Social Sciences announced Dr Michele Barnes as the winner of their Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research, and The Australian Academy of Science announced Dr Brock Bergseth as the winner of a Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award.
Dr Michele Barnes
Dr Michele Barnes’ work takes a human approach to solving environmental problems. When addressing and solving these problems, she says including the relationships that bind people to each other and the environment is key.
“The relationships we have with others influence our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours,” Dr Barnes said.
“Our social networks contribute to—and can potentially help solve—complex environmental problems.”
As an example, she has shown that stronger communication networks between tuna fishers in the Pacific could have prevented the accidental catch of more than 46,000 sharks over a five-year period.
“Most, if not all, environmental problems are fundamentally driven by people and the interactions people have with nature,” Dr Barnes said.
Dr. Barnes’ research has also shown that social networks play a critical role in helping people adapt to climate change. This work is crucial as climate change and its impacts—including droughts, floods, heatwaves, and sea-level rise—continue to threaten the planet’s long-term viability as a suitable habitat for people and other species.
“A greater understanding of social networks sheds light on the critical aspects of the human side of environmental problems,” Dr Barnes said.
“My research is helping change the way we think about these problems and highlights new potential levers to solve them.”
Dr Brock Bergseth
Dr Bergseth combines biological, ecological and behavioural science to understand the nature and implications of human interactions with marine ecosystems. His current research seeks to understand and influence human behaviour to bolster the effectiveness of conservation programs, such as reducing poaching and illegal fishing in marine protected areas (MPAs).
The Academy’s selection committee was captivated by Dr Bergseth’s research proposal, which showed an impressive understanding of the value of combining social and biological sciences as an interdisciplinary approach.
“The complex problems we are facing in conservation today are hard to understand and address using a single approach,” Dr Bergseth said.
“These issues can only be tackled through bespoke interventions that use tools and approaches from a wide range of science disciplines.”
In addition to his position at Coral CoE, Dr Bergseth is also a visiting scholar at Oxford University. He is currently designing social norms-based behavioural interventions to reduce illegal fishing in MPAs.
The Paul Bourke Awards for Early Career Research are annual awards named in honour of the Academy’s past president Paul Francis Bourke (1938–1999) who was one of the first Australian historians to obtain American style doctoral training. The awards honour Australians in the early part of their career who have achieved excellence in scholarship in one or more fields of the social sciences. Four Paul Bourke Award recipients are selected each year by members of the Academy’s Panel Committees. Dr. Barnes was unanimously selected as this year’s recipient for Panel A, which covers the disciplines of Anthropology, Demography, Geography, Linguistics, Sociology, and Management. More information: https://socialsciences.org.au/awards/
The Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award is an annual award which aims to assist early career researchers in the environmental field. The Academy award is named in honour of the late Dr Max Day AO FAA who was one of the longest serving Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science. Max Day spent his career championing a wide range of the biological sciences and conservation, as well as helping other scientists, so the award is specifically aimed at assisting environmental researchers. More information: https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/news-and-media-releases/max-day-awardees-aim-safeguard-culture-and-change-behaviours
Michele Barnes (Townsville, AEST)
P: +61 (0)408 677 570
Brock Bergseth (London, GMT. Available 0600–1000AEDT)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Melissa Lyne / Coral CoE (Sydney, AEDT)
P: +61 (0)415 514 328