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.

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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

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A new study on the effects of climate change in five tropical countries has found fisheries are in more trouble than agriculture, and poor people are in the most danger.

Distinguished Professor Joshua Cinner from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies led the study. He said tropical regions are expected to suffer losses in both fisheries and agriculture as the effects of climate change increasingly make themselves felt.

“For example, by 2100 tropical areas could lose up to 200 suitable plant growing days per year due to climate change. Likewise, in some tropical areas fishable biomass in the ocean could drop by up to 40 per cent,” said Professor Cinner.

“Yet assessments of climate change impacts and the policy prescriptions that come from them rarely consider changes to agriculture and fisheries simultaneously, and those that do are at the national scale.

“These larger-scale assessments gloss over how households and even entire communities will be affected by climate change.”

Prof Cinner led a team of 28 researchers who investigated the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture and fisheries for 72 coastal communities across Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Tanzania.

The authors integrated socioeconomic surveys from over 3,000 households with model projections of losses to crop yield and fisheries catch under a high emissions scenario (SSP 5–8.5) and a low emissions scenario (SSP 1–2.6).

They found that, although different communities vary in how vulnerable they are both within and across countries, the communities with lower socioeconomic status are particularly exposed to severe impacts and have higher dependence on natural resources, so these impacts will hit harder.

“We found that the potential losses are expected to be higher in the fisheries sector than agriculture overall, but the big problem is that two thirds of the communities we studied will experience potential losses to both fisheries and agriculture simultaneously, under a high emissions scenario,” said Professor Cinner.

“Our in-depth surveys revealed that many people have limited opportunity to adapt to changes by switching livelihoods between food production sectors.

“But climate change mitigation – reducing greenhouse gas emissions – could reduce the proportion of places facing that double burden by half.

It really does show how much the lives of very many ordinary people hinge on decisions they have no control over and highlights the moral responsibilities that decision makers have towards them,” said Professor Cinner.


Cinner JE, Caldwell IR, Thiault L, et al. 2022. ‘Potential impacts of climate change on agriculture and fisheries production in 72 tropical coastal communities’. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30991-4


Professor Joshua E. Cinner (Townsville, AEST)
P: +61 (0) 747 816 751
E: joshua.cinner@jcu.edu.au

Researchers say there needs to be a better understanding of how conservation and aid projects in developing countries impact the people they are designed to help.

“Millions of dollars have been spent on integrated conservation and development projects that are aimed at improving people’s lives in developing countries,” says study lead author, Dr Georgina Gurney from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University.

“But our understanding of whether these projects are effective and how they impact people – positively or negatively – is very weak, particularly how they impact different groups within communities,” Dr Gurney says.

Dr Gurney says conservation in developing countries has typically been based on the assumption that projects will be beneficial and affect all people equally, but this approach is too simplistic.

As part of their study published in a special edition of the Royal Society’s journal, Philosophical Transactions B, the researchers explored the impact of marine conservation and development projects on fishing communities in Indonesia.

They examined how benefits and costs of the project were distributed across different groups within the communities, such as how the project affected men as opposed to women, or the elderly compared to young people.

“We found that the impacts are not always equal for everyone and this highlights a real problem when implementing projects,” says Professor Bob Pressey from the Coral CoE.

“It’s important to understand how different people are affected because unequal impacts can be seen as unfair, and this can lead to conflict and hinder poverty alleviation.”

Dr Gurney adds that knowing how different community members respond to these projects means they can be tailored for the various sectors of society.

“For example, environmental education activities should be designed differently for different age groups because people’s ability to learn new information varies,” Dr Gurney says.

“A more nuanced understanding of how these projects affect people allows us to better design projects to alleviate poverty and ultimately, achieve objectives for environmental sustainability.”



Integrated conservation and development: evaluating a community-based marine protected area project for equality of socioeconomic impacts, by Georgina G. Gurney, Robert L. Pressey, Joshua E. Cinner, Richard Pollnac, Stuart J. Campbell is published in the journal, Philosophical Transactions B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0277

Credit for all images: Georgina Gurney


Dr Georgina Gurney, georgina.gurney@gmail.com, +61 (0) 7 4781 4000

Prof Bob Pressey, bob.pressey@jcu.edu.au, (0418 387 681)

Eleanor Gregory, Communications Manager – +61 (0) 428 785 895


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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