Research Projects

Research Projects

Research Overview

The Conservation Governance Lab focuses on how stakeholders from local to international levels work together in the face of environmental change and implement strategies to improve conservation policy. Using public policy frameworks, our research takes us around the world, from studying conservation policy in Congress in the United States to the management of coral reefs in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

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Coral Reef Management and Governance
Coastal Communities in the Gulf of Mexico
Costal Resilience and Climate Adaptation
Wildlife Management and Governance
Conservation Policy in Congress
Conservation Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa
Environmental Health

Coral Reef Management and Governance

Coral reefs are some of the most threatened and rare ecosystems on earth. While they occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, they support at least 25% of marine life. They provide invaluable ecosystem services, such as coastal protection and tourism opportunities. In the last 70 years, coral reef ecosystems have been degrading at an unprecedented rate. As such, it is critical to understand how coral reef governance is evolving in the face of the Anthropocene. Our research uses public policy frameworks to help us to understand how human and natural systems of global coral reefs respond to global environmental change. One of our projects looks at how coral reefs are managed in marine protected areas in Malaysia and Indonesia and how humans and ecosystems are responding to climate change. Another project examines the challenges that two organizations tasked with managing coral reefs in Florida must overcome to combat the emerging threats to coral reef ecosystems. We also study how coalitions and their respective narrative strategies during controversial port expansion projects that threatened coral reefs in Florida and the Cayman Islands, influenced coral reef governance and policy change in those areas. 

Coastal Communities in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico Coast (“The Gulf”) is one of the most productive bodies of water in the U.S and provides an abundance of natural resources, from oil and gas production to commercial fisheries. It holds immense ecological, cultural, and economic value for the entire nation but especially to the coastal communities whose cultural heritage and way of life have been shaped by the Gulf. Unfortunately, the Gulf faces multiple threats such as an increasing hypoxic area threatening fishery production and devastating oil spills exacerbating stressors. Given the importance of the Gulf, we ask how do policy entrepreneurs enacting coastal governance at the federal, state, and local scale hold different ideas about coastal problems, policies, and politics? For this project, we focus on two study areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico and aim to shed light on how and why decisions are made at the local level and to analyze recommendations from pertinent stakeholders. A second project examines the policy decisions around and management systems of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Coastal Resilience and Climate Adaptation

About 40% of the world’s population lives within a hundred kilometers of a coast. With rising concerns regarding the challenges of climate change, sea level rise, flooding, and increased hurricane intensity, assessing the resilience and adaptation of coastal communities is essential. One of our projects examines how coastal communities and the ecosystems that they depend on are resilient to global environmental change, particularly hurricanes and climate change. Our case study looks at coastal communities in the Gulf of Mexico and explores how livelihoods and cultural assets are impacted by and rebound after a major hurricane. An upcoming project focuses on the impacts of climate stress on reef management and on community well-being in Florida and the US Virgin Islands. We aim to analyze climate modelling data with equity-focused social science research on coral reef climate adaptation in those areas.

Wildlife Management and Governance

Wildlife management in the U.S. is unique because the government owns ~28% of the land. These public lands often provide recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking. Due to several policies including the Pittman-Robertson Act (1937) which places an 11% excise tax on hunting equipment and more, hunters are the backbone of conservation funding in the U.S. Dwindling hunting licenses and other challenges such as disease raise concerns on the impact on conservation efforts and research. As such, we ask how do the perceptions of American hunters inform wildlife conservation, policy, and management in the United States? This research looks at how hunters perceive the science and management of wildlife species in North America. We also look at how state-level management has adapted to the presence of positive Chronic Wasting Disease cases in white-tailed deer. Both projects are conducted with agency and manager collaborators.

Conservation Policy in Congress

In these polarizing times, our lab is interested in understanding how conservation policy is made in the U.S. Congress and how partisan lawmakers can collaborate to further conservation. Our first project examines whether coral reefs are the key to climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress. Using public policy theory, we identify how policy-makers are coming to agreement over how and why they enact coral reef conservation. Our second project looks at where American lawmakers agree on conservation policy and public lands policy. For our third project, we study how coastal and ocean policy change between presidential administrations in the United States. Lastly, our fourth project examines how the Dark Sky Parks policy emerged in the U.S. in the face of conflicting powerful interests such as development and oil and mining interests. 

Conservation Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa holds one of the most biodiverse regions. Beyond natural heritage, conservation is a multibillion dollar industry in Africa. In 2019, wildlife-based tourism alone generated more than $29 billion and employed 3.6 million people on the continent, providing a route towards sustainable development. But questions remain over how to best enact these types of development frameworks in a way that ensures stakeholder inclusion and the use of the best available science.  We ask how stakeholders enact wildlife conservation policy in Subsaharan Africa? This research looks at how community based protected areas and national parks function as conservation tools in the Congo Basin and in Southern Africa. This research is done in partnership with African civil society organizations. 

Environmental Health

Our knowledge of how the environment we live in impacts our health continues to grow. The importance of understanding that relationship has been at the forefront especially in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic that unfolded in early 2020.  We look at the accessibility and distribution of information related to COVID-19 among the three poorest states in the U.S., Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. We also ask  how the policy response to COVID-19 unfolded across federal, state, and local scales in the Southeast United States? This research looks at how the different levels of government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and draws out insights on what topics the different levels of government focused on in the media and official government documents.

Hospital staff in full PPE at Alabama Hospital. Image from ABC News/ Julie Bennett

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