Linking social science and ecology to solve the world's environmental problems

December 16, 2013

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 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 . 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.

Explore further: Study provides insights on protecting world's poor from climate change

More information: '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:

Related Stories

Reef fish find it's too hot to swim

November 27, 2013

We all know the feeling, it's a hot summer afternoon and you have no appetite and don't want to do anything apart from lay on the couch.

One solution to global overfishing found

March 19, 2012

A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and other groups on more than 40 coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans indicates that "co-management"—a collaborative ...

Community power 'can rescue failing fish stocks'

April 1, 2013

Traditional community-run marine reserves and fisheries can play a big role in helping to restore and maintain fish numbers in stressed developing nations' coral reef fisheries.

Bringing coral reefs back from the brink

September 2, 2013

Shocks caused by climate and seasonal change could be used to aid recovery of some of the world's badly-degraded coral reefs, an international team of scientists has proposed.

Recommended for you

Team finds Southern East Africa getting wetter, not dryer

October 21, 2016

The prevailing notion that the African continent has been getting progressively drier over time is being challenged by a new study that finds that drought has actually decreased over the past 1.3 million years and that the ...

Mt. Aso could erupt much sooner, scientists warn

October 20, 2016

Damage from the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake could hasten Mt. Aso's eruption, volcanologists warn. In a paper published on Science, Kyoto University researchers and colleagues report new faults in the vicinity of Mt. Aso's magma ...

Risk analysis for common ground on climate loss and damage

October 20, 2016

The Paris Agreement included groundbreaking text on the need for a mechanism to help identify risks beyond adaptation and support the victims of climate-related loss and damage—but how exactly it will work remains unclear. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.