Imagining reef futures after mass coral bleaching events

Datta, Amber W., Wyborn, Carina, Chaffin, Brian C., and Barnes, Michele L. (2024) Imagining reef futures after mass coral bleaching events. Environmental Science & Policy, 151. 103625.

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Extreme climate events are dramatically changing social-ecological systems (SESs) and challenging long-standing environmental governance paradigms. How high level governance actors (e.g. decision-makers and those who advise them) imagine the future of SESs can shape what management approaches are pursued and how SESs change. Previous research on climate-induced shifts in governance suggests that: 1) crises can provide windows of opportunity to catalyze transitions, and 2) transitions require governance actors to revisit and reimagine possible management solutions and the underlying purposes and ultimate desired outcomes of resource management. Articulating the multiple visions of system futures that emerge in the wake of a crisis can encourage creative responses to change that can incorporate multiple perspectives and provide space for decision-makers to consider different options for management and potential conflicts therein. However, empirical research is needed to examine how governance actors actually envision future management in the context of a crisis. Here we explore governance actors’ perspectives on future pathways for reef management in the wake of an extreme climate event, and what actions are underway to pursue these pathways. We specifically investigate perspectives after recurrent mass coral bleaching events impacted the Great Barrier Reef through 36 semi-structured interviews with governance actors across the region. Drawing on climate adaptation frameworks and narrative policy analysis, we demonstrate that crises trigger changes in governance actors’ perspectives on the goals and approaches of reef management. However, rather than a single vision emerging in the wake of crisis, we find that multiple, and at times conflicting, visions for the role of management and plausible futures for the GBR are simultaneously shaping the trajectory of coral reef governance. Our findings suggest that transforming governance after crises involves negotiating multiple concurrent visions for social-ecological futures.

Item ID: 82789
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-6416
Keywords: Climate change, Environmental governance, Crisis, Climate adaptation, Narrative analysis, Coral reefs
Copyright Information: © 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC license (
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DE2001922
Date Deposited: 16 May 2024 02:04
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 50%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410405 Environmental rehabilitation and restoration @ 50%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180504 Marine biodiversity @ 100%
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