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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.

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Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

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Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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.

PAPER

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

CONTACT

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

Researchers working with stakeholders in the Great Barrier Reef region have come up with ideas on how groups responsible for looking after the reef can operate more effectively when the next bleaching event arrives.

Dr Michele Barnes is a Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. She said in 2016 and 2017 the reef experienced unprecedented back-to-back mass coral bleaching – challenging its guardians’ abilities to protect it.

“Our collaborative research was squarely aimed at improving governance responses to extreme climate events in the GBR region and potentially other regions around the world,” said Dr Barnes.

The team interviewed 32 key individuals representing government, non-profits, research institutions, and the tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industries. The organisations deal with coral health, water quality, tourism and fishing.

“We wanted to understand catalysts and barriers to actions being taken across the region in response to coral bleaching, and participants’ hopes for future action,” said Dr Barnes.

The researchers found five major categories of activity for those involved in the wake of coral bleaching: assessing the scale and extent of bleaching, sharing information, communicating bleaching to the public, building local resilience, and addressing global threats.

“These actions were helped and hindered by a range of factors. For instance, some people were hindered in responding because information on the bleaching was scattered and not well integrated, there were conflicts and a lack of respect across certain groups, and community involvement was lacking in some cases” said co-author Amber Datta, a PhD candidate based at James Cook University and the University of Montana.

Working with a group of local stakeholders in the Great Barrier Reef, the team identified several ways to improve responses to future crises. These improvements include improving coordination, strengthening relationships between groups, and empowering and recognizing Traditional Owners as leaders of their Sea Country rather than stakeholders (see attached graphic for more details).

Dr. Barnes said “The new approaches should help to improve responses to future crisis events, but effective responses will depend on the willingness of diverse groups to negotiate a shared path forward, and ultimately on international and national commitments to address the root cause of climate change”.

PAPER

Barnes M.L., Datta A., Morris S., Zethoven I.  2022. ‘Navigating climate crises in the Great Barrier Reef’. Global Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2022.102494

CONTACT

Dr Michele Barnes (Townsville, AEST)

M: +61 (0)408 677 570
E: michele.barnes@jcu.edu.au

Amber Datta (Townsville, AEST)
M (AU): +61 (0)456 426 248
E: amber.datta@my.jcu.edu.au

Climate change must no longer be viewed as a “tragedy of the commons”, say researchers from the University of Exeter and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

December marks the 50th anniversary of the paper that popularized the concept of tragedy of the commons: it argued that individuals will always take advantage of a common resource and so degrade it. A new paper argues that the theory limits the way climate change is viewed.

“New findings about how people understand and act suggest that climate change will more likely be solved by appealing to moral arguments rather than purely scientific ones,” said Professor Katrina Brown, one of the paper’s authors.

Professor Brown and Professor Neil Adger, both from the University of Exeter, and Professor Joshua Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, say that in order to make urgently needed progress in addressing climate change, governments need to promote climate change as a moral issue. And policy needs acknowledge that politicians often make their decisions based on reputation.

“Doing the right thing matters to people, but not everyone agrees what the right thing is. Some people emphasize fairness, others duty and patriotism. We need to appeal to the full range of these values,” said Professor Cinner, co-author of the new paper in the journal Global Environmental Change.

They argue new ways of speaking about climate change that focus on the wide variety values and priorities of people with conservative and liberal views should be harnessed to encourage more concern and action on climate change.

American ecologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin wrote his paper “The tragedy of the commons” in 1968.

Lead author, Professor Brown, said: “Hardin’s theory has been very influential. It has been used to design global co-operation on climate change such as the Paris Agreement. But there is a rapidly closing window to transform the economy and avoid climate catastrophe.

“New social science points the way to political mobilization based on sense of duty, respect for nature and others, and solidarity. These are now more relevant and more likely to win the day.”

“Addressing climate change requires building inclusive moral frames, and fundamental changes in governance systems to better manage the associated risks.”

Their paper is entitled: “Moving climate change beyond the tragedy of the commons.”

Citation: Brown, K, Adger, WN, & Cinner, JE (2019) Moving climate change beyond the tragedy of the commons. Global Environmental Change 54: 61-63. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.11.009

For More Information:

University of Exeter, UK
Press Office
P: +44 (0)1392 724828
E: pressoffice@exeter.ac.uk

Catherine Naum, Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Townsville, QLD Australia
P: +61 7 4781 6067
E: catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au

 

Who cares about the Great Barrier Reef? Many people, and according to a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, some of the most passionately connected  individuals can come from far away places, across the globe.

The study, led by Dr. Georgina Gurney of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University, involved interviews with more than 5,000 people from 40 countries and found that where you live, doesn’t necessarily determine what you care about.  In fact, the data suggests that people living near or far from the Reef can develop equally strong feelings of attachment to the large and iconic World Heritage site.

This is good news for the Reef. Blighted by bleaching, the Great Barrier Reef needs all the help it can get. The findings published today suggest that resource managers should draw on the support of the global community, not only locals living adjacent to the Reef, when engaging the public.

“It’s widely acknowledged that successful environmental management requires strong community engagement and support, but current approaches tend to only target locals. Our findings reveal that this view is too narrow,” says Dr Gurney.

For the many ecosystems that are increasingly affected by global-scale threats, such as climate change, these results are empowering.

“We need to look beyond our backyards for solutions to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Climate change, for example, is one of the biggest threats to the Reef and tackling it requires the support of the global community, not only those living close to the Reef.”

The study redefines the meaning of ‘community’ and, in doing so, identifies four new sub-communities, each with a different form of attachment to the Reef.

“Our study includes interviews with a diverse group of people – from fishers to international tourists. We found there are generally four types of communities who express ‘attachment’ for the Great Barrier Reef,” says co-author, Professor Neil Adger of the University of Exeter, U.K. “For example, we identified an ‘Armchair Enthusiast’ community. This group of individuals unexpectedly exhibits strong emotional bonds with the Reef, despite the fact that many live outside the Reef region and even outside of Australia.”

The authors say that the evidence suggests new types of bonds between people and iconic natural places are emerging that transcend traditional geographic boundaries. If targeted effectively, these bonds may be useful in building the transnational support required for successfully protecting the Reef.

“Modern-day problems, need modern-day solutions,” says co-author Dr Nadine Marshall of the Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). “Addressing global-scale threats requires engaging people from all over the world who care about the Reef through modern communication channels, such as social media.”

“Our results show that declines in the Reef’s health may affect people across the globe. So, we suggest that resource managers consider the untapped potential of emerging transnational communities to build broad public support for protecting the Reef.”

The paper “Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world” is now available online.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University are engaging social science to help solve some of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

Dr Christina Hicks, an interdisciplinary social science fellow at the ARC CoECRS, holds a joint position with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University in the USA.

Dr Hicks says more powerful economic interests, such as tourism, currently drive coral reef management. Little thought is given to community needs such as food or wellbeing. This results in conflict.

Dr Hicks explains to improve long-term coral reef management, “human values need to be considered in decision-making.”

Dr Nick Graham, a senior research fellow at the ARC CoECRS, adds that humans play an essential role in ecology, but different people have different priorities. He says these priorities need to be considered when managing natural environments.

For example, in a recent co-authored paper for the journal Global Environmental Change, Dr Hicks and Dr Graham, along with Dr Joshua Cinner, measured and compared how managers, scientists and fishers prioritised specific benefits from coral reef ecosystems. This in effect highlighted key areas of agreement and conflict between the three different stakeholder groups.

Dr Graham says the lack of ‘ownership’ of reef resources for fishers, who depend on fish for their food and livelihoods, underlies a main area of conflict. But the paper also indicated that managers might be well placed to play a brokering role in disagreements.

“Communities that are engaged and recognised are more likely to trust and support their management agencies,” adds Dr Hicks. She explains that governments who consult local communities in order to develop co-management plans generally reduce conflict and see increased livelihood as well as ecological benefits (such as a rise in fish stocks) in their area.

Examples of successful co-management arrangements exist in coral-reef nations such as Papua New Guinea and Kenya.

Synergies and tradeoffs in how managers, scientists, and fishers value coral reef ecosystem services’ by Christina C. Hicks, Nicholas A.J. Graham and Joshua E. Cinner appears in Global Environmental Change: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378013001349

Contacts:
Dr Christina Hicks, +61 7 4781 6072, 0466 437 490
Dr Nicholas Graham, +61 7 4781 6291, 0466 432 188
Prof David Yellowlees, ARC CoECRS, +61 7 4781 6249
Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328, melissa.lyne@gmail.com

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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