In 2016, Prof Cinner’s work led to his article ‘Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs’ appearing on the cover of Nature. It went on to feature in more than 100 news publications and broadcasts including The Atlantic, LA Times, BBC, Washington Post and the Daily Mail.
Bright spots, or ‘positive deviants’, are coral reefs found to be performing better than expected given the adverse conditions they are being exposed to.
“This type of bright spots approach has been used in social science fields such as human development and even business to uncover strategies that work in a context of widespread failure,” Prof Cinner says.
“We injected this idea at a time when coral reefs are facing multiple threats on various scales. A lot of news about coral reefs is very dire and disappointing, so it’s nice to have this positive news about these places that are doing better than expected.”
Prof Cinner first joined JCU while undertaking research in 29 coastal communities across Papua New Guinea as part of his PhD from 2002 to 2006. Soon after, he joined the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which undertakes world-best integrated research for sustainable use and management of coral reefs based at JCU.
“JCU was the natural choice… it’s the university of the tropics,” Prof Cinner says. “It is pretty difficult to beat the research environment not just at JCU, but within the Centre itself.
“It is an exceptional place for the type of research I do. I have a team of emerging scientists who are really top in their field and doing some exciting work.”
In September, Prof Cinner received the highest recognition one can get from their peers, being elected a Fellow to the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
“It’s particularly exciting because I’m a social scientist by training, but a lot of the work I do is in the interdisciplinary space linking social science and ecology,” Prof Cinner says. “So, it is very nice that my work is recognised as meaningful and impactful to the core social sciences as well as in that interdisciplinary space.
“To nerds like me, it is akin to getting inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.”
The Academy of the Social Sciences Australia represents more than 600 leading academics shaping Australian policy.