I am an environmental social scientist, and my research integrates geography, sociology and psychology to examine environmental governance, in particular, governance of conservation and sustainability initiatives in marine and coastal systems. The interdisciplinary approach I take to research often includes collaborations with biological scientists, and extends to a transdisciplinary approach, involving knowledge co-production with practitioners and policymakers from the environmental and development sectors. Most of my research has focused on coral reef systems in the Asia-Pacific region (particularly in Australia, Indonesia, and Fiji). Some of my recent transdisciplinary research on coral reef conservation was profiled by Nature in an article on research related to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 Life Below Water.

I am currently a Senior Research Fellow at the College of Arts, Education & Social Sciences, within the Division of Tropical Enviornments & Societies. Between 2016-2020, I held an Environmental Social Science Fellowship at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University. In 2019, I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship supporting institutional visit at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. I commenced my Discovery Early Career Research (DECRA) Fellowship, awarded by the Australia Research Council, in 2021. This Fellowship focuses on fairness in conservation and sustainability initiatives, and aims to advance understanding of what is considered fair by local stakeholders and rightsholders, and the factors that shape those perceptions. Between 2019-2022, I co-led the NCEAS Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) Working Group on Coastal Outcomes. Our research focused on the role of diverse area-based management tools in conservation, focusing particularly on Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs). This project was implemented through a transdisciplinary research process, involving ~30 academics, practitioners and policymakers from the conservation, sustainability and development sectors.

Between 2018-2021, I served as an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Conservation Biology’s (SCB) Social Science Working Group. I co-founded and co-chaired the JEDI Committee at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies from 2020-2023. I'm currently on the Editorial Board of Sustainability Science and People and Nature.

Research Program

Google Scholar profile

My current research program has three broad themes:

(1) The sociocultural and institutional drivers of collaborative governance of conservation and sustainability initiatives.

To deliver benefits to nature and people, conservation and sustainability initiatives tend to require collaborative governance approaches that involve and are led by stakeholders and rightsholders. However, key gaps remain in our understanding of the why people cooperate and form groups to engage in collective action for conservation and sustainability; this is especially true in the context of accelerating global environmental and social change. To help address this research need my collaborators and I examine the drivers affecting individual decisions to cooperate and the emergence of group collective action. Specifically, we elucidate sociocultural and institutional drivers operating at multiple levels, including the individual (e.g. attitudes, beliefs), group (e.g. group heterogeneity), and broader institutional (e.g. global conservation policy, institutional history) and social-ecological contextual (e.g. market access) levels. A key focus of this research theme is understanding the role of place attachment and identity in collaborative governance, including how place identity is related to participation in conservation. In one of our key papers, we drew on place attachment theory to re-examine the concept of ‘community’ in environmental policy in the context of addressing contemporary sustainability challenges, which increasing require transnational collaborative governance given globalisation (see related conference talk).

(2) The social and ecological outcomes of conservation and sustainability initiatives.

Conservation and sustainability initiatives are social-ecological systems, with their outcomes and the drivers of those outcomes being both social and ecological. However, past research has tended to take a disciplinary approach, often focused on the ecological outcomes of area-based management and their biophysical drivers. To contribute to better understanding the outcomes of area-based conservation and resource management initiatives, my collaborators and I examine how area-based management (e.g. marine protected areas, including community-managed) affects people (e.g. with respect to multi-dimensional human wellbeing and poverty) and how ecological outcomes (e.g. coral assemblages, reef fish biomass and diversity) are related to multi-scale sociocultural and institutional drivers (e.g. markets, management rules).

An ongoing core component of my work in this theme is my transdisciplinary research on the multiple social and ecological outcomes of coral reef co-management. Drawing on theoretical and empirical literature on social-ecological systems, knowledge co-production, and common property, a key focus of this research has been developing a social-ecological systems monitoring framework for coral reef co-management through a transdisciplinary collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society. The framework was developed to be used by conservation and sustainability practitioners (see the social-ecological systems monitoring framework practitioners' manual) and has been applied in seven countries. We have used these data to explore the ecological effectiveness of diverse forms of management, and the perceived benefits of fisherie co-management, including through a gender equality lens.

(3) Justice in conservation and sustainability science, policy and practice.

Justice in conservation and sustainability research, policy, and practice is not only an ethical imperative, but also instrumental to addressing the socioeconomic and environmental dimensions of global sustainability challenges. However, understanding of what constitutes fair decision-making and outcomes in sustainability and conservation pracitce, and how they can be promoted remains nascent. Cross-cutting the previous two research themes, this expanding area of my work examines procedural, distributional and recognitional dimensions of justice, with a particular focus on fairness perceptions and their plural nature. My collaborators and I examine how these three key dimensions can be fostered in conservation and sustainability policy and practice, including with respect to the Convention on Biological Diversity 30x30 target and the role of Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), a new global conservation policy tool. Our work on distributional equity has focused on conservation outcome equality and how it trade-offs of with biodiversity and fisheries objectives, as well as the perceived fairness of alternative outcome distributions and how perceptions relate to conservation support. Recently, we developed a framework for advancing procedural justice in conservation and sustainability practice.

To advance justice in conservation and sustainability science, my work involves research and advocacy related to how science is undertaken and by whom. For example, my collaborators and I have examined gender and geographic trends in authorship of coral reef science. I have been involved in several initiatives to promote Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in research, including the JEDI Committee associated with the Society of Conservation Biology’s Social Science Working Group, as well as the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies JEDI Committee, which I co-founded and co-chaired until the end of the Centre in 2023. In early 2023, I co-led a training workshop on advancing equity in small-scale fisheries management in the Pacific with The Pacific Community.


Current postdoctoral fellow, students and mentees

  • Tom Gammage, PhD (JCU)
  • Melissa Hampton-Smith, PhD (JCU)
  • Edith Shum, PhD (UTAS)
  • Ando Rabeariosa, mentee (UC Santa Cruz)

Past postdoctoral fellow, students and mentees

  • Patrick Smallhorn-West, Postdoc (JCU/Wildlife Conservation Society/WorldFish)
  • Cristina Ruano Chamorro, PhD 2023 (JCU)
  • Kim Zoeller, PhD 2022 (JCU)
  • Whitney Friedman, Postdoc (UC Santa Barbara/NCEAS SNAPP)
  • Marie Lapointe, PhD 2021 (JCU)
  • Patrick Smallhorn-West, PhD 2020 (JCU)
  • Jacqueline Lau, PhD 2019 (JCU)
  • Tracy MacKeracher, Masters 2017 (JCU)
  • Jeremy Horowitz, Masters 2016 (JCU)
  • Anushka Sandanam, Masters 2015 (JCU)

Selected Publications

For complete publication list see my Google Scholar profile

Gurney, G., V. Adams, J. Álvarez-Romero, J. Claudet. 2023. Area-based conservation: Taking stock and looking ahead. One Earth 6 (2): 98–104.

Spalding, A., K. Grorud-Colvert, E. Allison, D. Amon, R. Collin, A. de Vos, A. Friedlander, S. Johnson, J. Mayorga, C. Paris, C. Scott, D. Suman, A. Cisneros-Montemayor, Estradivari, A. Giron-Nava, G. Gurney et al. 2023. Engaging the tropical majority to make ocean governance and science more equitable and effective. Npj Ocean Sustainability 2 (1): 1–4.

Ruano-Chamorro, C., G. Gurney, J. Cinner. 2022. Advancing procedural justice in conservation. Conservation Letters.

Gurney, G., Darling, E.S., Ahmadia, G., Agostini, V., Ban, N., Blythe, J., Claudet, J., Epstein, G., Estradivari, Himes-Cornell, A., Jonas, H., Armitage, D., Campbell, S., Cox, C., Friedman, W., Gill, D., Lestari, P., Mangubhai, S., McLeod, E., Muthiga, N., Naggea, J., Ranaivoson, R., Wenger, A., Yulianto, I., Jupiter, S. 2021. Biodviersity needs every tool in the  box: use OECMs. Nature 595: 646-649.

Grorud-Colvert, K., J. Sullivan-Stack,… G. Gurney… J. Lubchenco. 2021. The MPA Guide: A framework to achieve global goals for the ocean. Science 373 (6560): eabf0861.

Gurney, G., Mangubhai, S., Fox, M., Kaitkoski Kim, M., Agrawal, A. 2021. Equity in environmental governance: perceived fairness of distributional justice principles in marine co-management. Environmental Science & Policy 124(23-32).

Ahmadia, G., S. Cheng,...G. Gurney et al. 2021. Limited progress in improving gender and geographic representation in coral reef science. Frontiers in Marine Science 8: 1334.

Lau, J., G. Gurney, J. Cinner. 2021. Environmental justice in coastal systems: perspectives from communities confronting change. Global Environmental Change 66:02208.

Chaigneau, T., L. Camfield, S.Coulthard, T. Daw, C. Hicks, L. Jones, N. Matthews, C. Mcquistan, L. Szaboova, T. Chapin, D. Gasper, G. Gurney, M. Ibrahim, T. James, B. Reyers, S. White, K. Brown. 2021. Reconciling wellbeing and resilience in sustainable development. Nature Sustainability 1-7.

Gurney, G., Marshall, N., Curnock, M., Pert, P., Thiault, L. 2021. Coral reef collapse and sense of place in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. In Raymond, C., Manzo, L., Williams, D., Di Masso, A., von Wirth, T. (Eds.), Changing Senses of Place: Navigating Global Challenges (pp. 21-31). Cambridge University Press.

Cinner, J., J. Zamborain-Mason, G. Gurney, et al. 2020. Meeting fisheries, ecosystem function, and biodiversity goals in a human-dominated world. Science 368(6488): 307-311.

Gurney, G., E. Darling, S. Jupiter, S. Mangubhai, T. McClanahan, P. Lestari, S. Pardede, S. Campbell, M. Fox, W. Naisilisili, N. Muthiga, S. D’agata, K. Holmes, N. Rossi. 2019Implementing a social-ecological systems framework for conservation monitoring: lessons from a multi-country coral reef program. Biological Conservation 240:108298.

Ban, N.C., G. Gurney et. al. 2019. Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas. Nature Sustainability 2(6): 524-532.

Gurney, G., J. Blythe, H. Adams, W. Adger, M. Curnock, L. Faulkner, T. James, N.A. Marshall, 2017. Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world. PNAS 114(38):10077-10082.

Gurney, G., J. Cinner, J. Sartin, R. Pressey, N. Ban, N. Marshall, D. Prabuning, 2016. Participation in devolved commons management: Multiscale socioeconomic factors related to individuals’ participation in community-based management of marine protected areas in Indonesia. Environmental Science & Policy 61:212-220.

Gurney, G., R. Pressey, J. Cinner, R. Pollnac, S. Campbell, 2015. Integrated conservation and development: Evaluating a community-based marine protected area project for equality of socioeconomic impacts. Phil Trans Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 370(1681): 20140277.

Gurney, G., J. Cinner, N. Ban, R. Pressey, R. Pollnac, S. Campbell, S. Tasidjawa, F. Setiawan, 2014. Poverty and protected areas: An evaluation of a marine integrated conservation and development project in IndonesiaGlobal Environmental Change 26: 98-107.

  • 2021 to present - ARC DECRA Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • 2020 to present - Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • 2019 - Fulbright Future Fellow, University of Michigan/Harvard University
  • 2016 to 2019 - Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Research Disciplines
  • 2022 - International Coral Reef Society Early Career Researcher Award
  • 2022 - APEC ASPIRE Prize - Australia's nominee
  • 2019 to 2022 - NCEAS Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP ) Working Group Grant (co-CI) https://snappartnership.net/teams/coastal-outcomes/
  • 2020 - Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research - Social-Ecological Research Frontiers Team
  • 2018 - Australian Institute of Science and Policy Queensland Tall Poppy Award
  • 2018 - Wildlife Conservation Society Impact Fellow
  • 2018 - Australian Academy of Sciences and Engineering Young Science Ambassador Award
  • 2016 - James Cook University Dean’s Award for PhD Excellence
  • 2015 - Virginia Chadwick Outstanding Publication Award
  • 2012 - Australian Federation of Graduate Women Award
  • 2021 to 2024 - Australia Research Council Discovery Early Career Research (DECRA) Fellowship
  • 2019 - Fulbright Future Research Fellowship
  • 2012 to 2016 - CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund Fellowship
  • 2021 - Editorial Board, Sustainability Science
  • 2021 - Editorial Board, People and Nature
  • 2018 to 2021 - Elected to the Board of Directors of the Society of Conservation Biology’s (SCB) Social Science Working Group

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 84+ research outputs authored by Dr Georgina Gurney from 2010 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

Fair conservation: pathways to equitable and effective protected areas

Indicative Funding
$447,357 over 4 years
This project aims to determine the conditions under which coral reef protected areas are likely to be considered fair by local stakeholders and how perceived fairness is related to cooperation with management. With protected areas set to cover 30% of the world?s surface by 2030, addressing the understudied question of what constitutes fairness for stakeholders is of pressing importance. This project will conduct the first multi-country comparative analysis of perceived protected area fairness, the factors that shape those perceptions and their implications for cooperation with management. Project outcomes include enhanced capacity to plan for and inform effective protected areas that are onsidered fair by the people most affected by them.
Georgina Gurney (Research Division)
fairness; Environmental Governance; Environmental justice; Protected Areas; Conservation; Social equity

Crawford Fund - Crawford-in-Queensland Student Awards

Advancing equity in small-scale fisheries management in the Pacific Island nations

Indicative Funding
$4,500 over 1 year
The project consists of conducting a workshop aimed at building the capacity of decision-makers from government and NGOs and promoting equity in small-scale fisheries (SSF) management in Pacific Islands nations through processes of knowledge exchange and co-creation. A two-day workshop will be held to exchange knowledge, share learnings, and bring together the perspectives of key stakeholders in SSF management in the Pacific Island nations regarding 1) what constitutes equity across its multiple dimensions and 2) what are the challenges, opportunities, and potential strategies to advance equity in SSF management in Pacific Island nations.
Cristina Ruano Chamorro, Joshua Cinner and Georgina Gurney (Research Division)
Equity; Small-scale Fisheries; Environmental Management; Pacific Island Nations; Stakeholders

Wildlife Conservation Society - Contract Research

Coral reef social-ecological systems

Indicative Funding
$46,386 over 1 year
This project aims to contribute to securing coral reef sustainability by examining the co-benefits and trade-offs among the multiple social and ecological outcomes of reef co-management. Further, by examining the contextual and institutional conditions associated with these outcomes, this project aims to elucidate what management strategies are likely to work in different places. This project involves close collaboration with the global non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society to ensure that the work provides actionable knowledge (e.g. decision-support tools) that results in real-world impact with respect to the future sustainability of coral reef social-ecological systems.
Georgina Gurney (Research Division)
Social-ecological systems; Coral Reefs; Sustainability; Co-management

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Understanding the use and potential of hukum adat (customary law) for marine resource management in Indonesia: building a knowledge-base for the implementation of Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs). (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Sustainability of coral reef fishery in Indonesia (Masters , Secondary Advisor)
  • Equity in marine conservation: from global to local (PhD , Primary Advisor)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit Research Data Australia.


The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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