Salient, credible, responsible, transdisciplinary research

Systems approach to understand interactions, drivers, mechanisms of change (and resilience) in marine social-ecological systems

Synthesis bringing together people, fields, organizations, data, literature to generate novel insights, delivering evidence-based insights

Developing solutions to sustainability challenges

Within the lab, our research examines the drivers, interactions, and mechanisms that influence management outcomes in marine social-ecological systems. With a global network of interdisciplinary practitioners and researchers, we integrate approaches from across natural and social science disciplines (e.g. impact evaluation, machine learning, econometrics, evidence synthesis), and synthesizing datasets on marine systems around the world (e.g. marine protected area management, oceanographic and climate data, underwater visual census surveys, socioeconomic monitoring data), to develop and test theories of the underlying factors that lead to equitable and sustainable outcomes, particularly in coastal communities vulnerable to social and environmental change.

Current Members

And learn about some of our partners here

Highlighted Projects

  • Bass Connections: Ocean Evidence Gap Map read more
  • Capacity Development for Coral Reef Science and Conservation in the Bird’s Head Seascape read more
  • Analyzing the Social Impacts of Marine Protection in the Sunda-Banda Seascape read more
  • The impacts of marine protected areas on human nutrition read more

Recent News

The Duke Daily Check This Out! Swimming with Whale Sharks

David Gill films whale sharks to show the positive effects of marine protected areas



Congratulations to Miranda Bernard, recipient of the 2021 David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship!

Miranda will complete a project under the academic mentorship of Dr. David Gill.

Conservation that Benefits Both Fish and Humans

“You want the impacts of these areas to be positive and equitable for all affected communities, but the marine environment is complex.” – David Gill

November 11, 2020


Highlighted Publications

Marine protected and conserved areas in the time of COVID 

Carol Phua, Dominic A. Andradi-Brown, Sangeeta Mangubhai, Gabby N. Ahmadia, Shauna L. Mahajan, Kirk Larsen, Stephen Friel, Russell Reichelt, Marc Hockings, David Gill, Laura Veverka, Richard Anderson, Lovasoa Cédrique Augustave, Awaludinnoer, Tadzio Bervoets, Kitty Brayne, Rili Djohani, Joan Kawaka, Fabian Kyne, January Ndagala, Jenny Oates, Kennedy Osuka, Mosor Prvan, Nirmal Shah, Fabio Vallarola, Lauren Wenzel, Hesti Widodo and Sue Wells

The intersection of potential global targets and commitments for ocean conservation with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has resulted in an opportunity to rethink the future of marine area-based conservation tools, particularly for marine protected and conserved areas (MPCAs). As MPCAs continue to provide essential ecological, social and economic services, current approaches to establishing and managing these areas require an understanding of the factors that drive the pressures they face. We briefly review their status pre-pandemic and provide an overview of the impacts of COVID-19 informed primarily by 15 case studies. Impacts are of two kinds: those affecting livelihoods and well-being of local communities and stakeholders that depend on the MPCA; and those which affect management and governance of the MPCA itself. Responses from managers and communities have addressed: the management of resources; income and food security; monitoring and enforcement; seafood supply chains; and communication amongst managers, community members and other stakeholders. Finally, we discuss innovative approaches and tools for scaling and transformational change, emphasising synergies between management for conservation and management for sustainable livelihoods, and how these relate to the principles of equity and resilience.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, Small-Scale Fisheries and Coastal Fishing Communities

Bennett, N. J., E. M. Finkbeiner, N. C. Ban, D. Belhabib, S. D. Jupiter, J. N. Kittinger, S. Mangubhai, J. Scholtens, D. Gill, and P. Christie.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly spread around the world with extensive social and economic effects. This editorial focuses specifically on the implications of the pandemic for small-scale fishers, including marketing and processing aspects of the sector, and coastal fishing communities, drawing from news and reports from around the world. Negative consequences to date have included complete shut-downs of some fisheries, knock-on economic effects from market disruptions, increased health risks for fishers, processors and communities, additional implications for marginalized groups, exacerbated vulnerabilities to other social and environmental stressors, and increased Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing. Though much of the news is dire, there have been some positive outcomes such as food sharing, the revival of local food networks, increases in local sales through direct marketing and deliveries, collective actions to safeguard rights, collaborations between communities and governments, and reduced fishing pressure in some places. While the crisis is still unfolding, there is an urgent need to coordinate, plan and implement effective short- and long-term responses. Thus, we urge governments, development organizations, NGOs, donors, the private sector, and researchers to rapidly mobilize in support of small-scale fishers, coastal fishing communities, and associated civil society organizations, and suggest actions that can be taken by each to help these groups respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strengthen causal models for better conservation outcomes for human well-being.

Cheng, SH; McKinnon, MC; Masuda, YJ; Garside, R; Jones, KW; Miller, DC; Pullin, AS; Sutherland, WJ; Augustin, C; Gill, DA; Wongbusarakum, S; Wilkie, D

Understanding how the conservation of nature can lead to improvement in human conditions is a research area with significant growth and attention. Progress towards effective conservation requires understanding mechanisms for achieving impact within complex social-ecological systems. Causal models are useful tools for defining plausible pathways from conservation actions to impacts on nature and people. Evaluating the potential of different strategies for delivering co-benefits for nature and people will require the use and testing of clear causal models that explicitly define the logic and assumptions behind cause and effect relationships.

Social Synergies, Tradeoffs, and Equity in Marine Conservation Impacts

Gill, DA; Cheng, SH; Glew, L; Aigner, E; Bennett, NJ; Mascia, MB

Biodiversity conservation interventions often aim to benefit both nature and people; however, the social impacts of these interventions remain poorly understood. We reviewed recent literature on the social impacts of four marine conservation interventions to understand the synergies, tradeoffs, and equity (STE) of these impacts, focusing on the direction, magnitude, and distribution of impacts across domains of human wellbeing and across spatial, temporal, and social scales. STE literature has increased dramatically since 2000, particularly for marine protected areas (MPAs), but remains limited. Few studies use rigorous counterfactual study designs, and significant research gaps remain regarding specific wellbeing domains (culture, education), social groups (gender, age, ethnic groups), and impacts over time. Practitioners and researchers should recognize the role of shifting property rights, power asymmetries, individual capabilities, and resource dependency in shaping STE in conservation outcomes, and utilize multi-consequential frameworks to support the wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Read About More Publications Here