Skip to main content

What is Social Science, and why is it important to the Reef?

Social science for the Great Barrier Reef is about understanding and managing people’s relationship with the Reef for the health of both the Reef and the people.

  • What do social sciences study?
  • Social phenomena: markets, governance, politics, culture, demographics, ideas, narratives, development, socio-economics, well-being, policy and law
  • Social processes: social organization, decision-making, educating, marketing, local development
  • Individual attributes: values, beliefs, knowledge, motivations, preferences, perceptions and behaviours

What are social sciences for?

  • Like all sciences, social science works to:
  • Understand and describe phenomena: social phenomena, processes or individual attributes - why or how something is occurring
  • Develop and test theory - what factors are associated with illegal fishing? What motivates people to engage in activities to protect the Reef?
  • Anticipate future trends - how people may use the Reef in future - through modelling and forecasting social and/or economic conditions
  • Imagine desirable futures - to question the status quo or business as usual by understanding different perspectives and how we might create the future we want.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority adopts a social-ecological system approach to its management and protection. This approach recognises that the Reef and the people who use it are strongly interconnected. This dual approach is one that involves management actions that consider ecological, social and economic factors, while applying the precautionary principle.

We use social science to understand the human dimensions of the Reef.

Human dimensions of the Reef

  • Human dimensions of the Reef include:
  • Where are people going in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?
  • What are they doing?
  • How are they doing it?
  • When are they doing it?
  • Why are they doing it?
  • What are the connections between all these things and what does it mean for the health of people and the Reef?


Human dimension framework for the Great Barrier Reef

The Human Dimensions Framework for the Great Barrier Reef helps us organise this information to understand and track change over time.

  • The framework groups the human dimensions of the Reef into five overlapping hubs:
  • Sustainable Use
  • Stewardship
  • Governance
  • Heritage
  • Connection to the Reef

These hubs describe social, economic, cultural and institutional aspects of people’s relationship to the Reef. The framework will be used to report progress against objectives in the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan.

Explore how the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) brings together information to guide Reef management decisions via the Reef Knowledge System.

View the Reef Authority’s priority information needs and knowledge gaps, focusing on long-term Reef management and protection.

This image represents the Human Dimensions framework for the Great Barrier Reef.

Adapted from: Assessment and monitoring of the human dimensions within the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program: final report of the Human Dimensions Expert Group (2019)

Human dimensions of the Reef diagram - Australia - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)

Social Science Community for the Great Barrier Reef

The Social Science Community for the Reef brings together social science practitioners and academics working in the Great Barrier Reef Region. The group's purpose is to collaborate, share knowledge and provide a platform for improving understanding of social science for the Reef, both research and applied.

This Community is an initiative of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in collaboration with: 

  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
  • Office of the Great Barrier Reef (Department of Environment and Science, Queensland)
  • James Cook University: University, the Cairns Institute
  • The Queensland University of Technology,
  • The University of Queensland and
  • Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

To join or for more information, please get in touch with

Join our Community

Join our LinkedIn group: Social Science Community for the Great Barrier Reef 

Join our mailing list or for more information contact: 


Watch videos from previous meetings and symposium:

Reef Authority: Social Science Community for the Reef playlist - YouTube

The SSCR holds quarterly meetings bringing both academic and practical perspectives on themes of interest.

Examples of previous themes have been: policies, communication, valuing ecosystems, etc. 

Watch videos from previous meetings Quarterly meetings recordings - YouTube

Reef Values Social Science Community for the Reef Symposium 2023

The Social Science Community for the Reef held its third Symposium in Cairns on 11 - 12 September. James Cook University and the Cairns Institute hosted the event.

Guests were inspired by the latest Reef social science and collaborated with peers to help collectively explore the diverse values, ecologies and communities of the Reef.

Watch videos from 2023 symposium Social Science Symposium 2023.

Inspire and Influence Social Science Symposium 2023


The Social science community for the Reef held its second symposium on 3 - 4 November 2022 in Brisbane, Queensland. The University of Queensland hosted the event.

Diverse coastal communities and Indigenous peoples rely on the Great Barrier Reef (the Reef) for their livelihoods, well-being and cultural continuity.

The Reef is part of our national identity and one of our most loved icons. Yet, the Reef continues to be under threat. The Reef’s waters again warmed early in December 2021, leading to the first mass bleaching event to occur under La Niña conditions.

It has never been more important for us to come together to help progress the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan’s vision and outcome of “Healthy Reef, Healthy People”.

Be inspired by the latest Reef social science and meet with your peers to help collectively shape a future for the Reef.

  • Workshop Day - 3 November 2022 consisted of 3 workshops, a panel and a performance: 
  • Whole-of-system, Values-Based Implementation Workshop- Mike Ronan (DES) and Dr Rachel Miller (DES) 
  • The Translation of Social Science for Reef Management – Dr Michelle Dyer (GBRMPA) and Dr Angela Dean (UQ) 
  • Social Science with Reef Traditional Owners – John Tapim and Dr Michelle Dyer (GBRMPA) 
  • You CAN ask that – Social Science with Traditional Owners Panel: John Tapim (GBRMPA), David Hudson (Didgeralia), Keron Murray (Wuthathi Chairman), Brent McLellan (Gidarjil TUMRA coordinator) 
  • Performance by David Hudson (Digeralia) 


  • Presentation Day - 4th November 2022 consisted of: 
  • 2 keynote presentations: 
    • The history and future of Sea Country co-management - John Tapim (Acting Director Traditional Use of Marine Resources, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) -  
    • The Reef’s History of protection and How the Reef’s history remains a source of hope and inspiration - Dr Rohan Lloyd (Reef historian, JCU)  
  • 19 presentations and 10 poster displays were divided into 3 broad themes on Reef social science: 
    • Reef and Climate Stewardship 
    • Monitoring and Decision Making 
    • Innovation and Solutions 

Watch videos from 2022 symposium Social Science Symposium 2022 - on YouTube

The second social science symposium was attended by:

Social science symposium 2022 breakdown




The Social Science community for the Great Barrier Reef held its inaugural symposium on Tuesday 5 October 2021, in Townsville, Queensland. The event was hosted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The symposium inspired social perspectives on maintaining and enhancing connections and flows that link and replenish, essential for the diversity and resilience of the Reef.

We sought to explore social-ecological connectivity, which we defined as the exchange or connection of ideas, benefits, knowledge, information and data, people and place, tele-connected and cross-scalar movements and other relationships.

We had an exciting program with a welcome from the Authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld, two plenary talks from Peta Ross (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) and Bruce Taylor (CSIRO), 12 presentations and two discussion sessions around the themes “Connecting and collaborating” and “Navigating change”. We ended the symposium with a panel discussion on critical paths forward.

Watch videos from 2021 symposium: Social Science Symposium 2021 - YouTube


Social science symposium 2021 breakdown

Updated 27 Jun 2024
Was this page helpful?
Your rating will help us improve the website.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.