Media coverage on my fieldwork: impacts of land reclamation on mangroves and coastal Balinese ecosystems

Link to article:

“Kelly Heber Dunning, a doctoral candidate in natural resource management at MIT, has worked with fishing communities in the area and shares some of the same concerns. She told VICE News that intertidal habitats such as Benoa have huge value, as they “buffer human settlements from erosion, provide habitats for juvenile fish that grow up to be commercially valuable species, purify water with roots that collect and trap detritus, cycle nutrients (from sewage), and so on.”

Going further, Dunning noted: “When you take away ecosystem services from fishermen in order to build a luxury destination for visitors, there must be long-term compensation for the lost value of the services this will cause.” Across Indonesia, top-down development frequently outpaces the ability of communities to have a real say in their future. But it’s clear that this generation of Indonesians can and will stand up to those in power. From the Sumatran countryside to the urban metropolis of Jakarta, disputes over land rights have brought legal action and clashes with police. “


Media coverage on my research: MIT Environmental Policy and Planning reviews my work on “Implementing the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in South East Asia”

“International treaties can exert pressure on national governments to pay attention to certain policy goals, how they choose to implement these goals is up to them. Kelly Heber Dunning (PhD ’16) examines the challenges facing countries that have signed on to the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Using a comparative case study of relatively similar (endangered) coral reefs in Indonesia and Malaysia, Kelly looks at the results in the two countries. She discovers (using a variety of underwater monitoring strategies and detailed surveys and interviews) that Indonesia’s co-managed system (government and villages) is more effective than Malaysia’s uses a top-down network of federally managed Marine Parks. Her findings go beyond what the research community has been able to document thus far regarding the advantages and disadvantages of alternative common pool resource management strategies.

If you’d like to learn more about Indonesia’s model and the likelihood it can be replicated, you can download Kelly’s dissertation here.”

Media coverage: Can Southeast Asia stop dumping plastic waste in our oceans?

An article featuring my views on marine waste in Southeast Asia:

“From what I have gathered through my own research, [the region’s plastic waste problem] started in the 1960s and 1970s when plastics began to replace banana leaves as the primary food containers,” said Kelly Heber Dunning, a PhD Student focused on natural resource management in the MIT Science Impact Collaborative.

Dunning, who is writing her dissertation on collaborative coral reef management in Indonesian and Malaysian villages, sees Bali as the “worst-case scenario” in the region. “The tide goes out in small coral reef villages on the north part of the island, and the trash line at low tide is like a rainbow on the black volcanic sand,” she said. “I have never seen anything like it.”

She recalled a cab journey in Java where her driver threw his food container out of the window without a second thought, explaining that this was the “Balinese way”. However, she is quick to add that placing the blame solely on locals is wrong.

“That is a misconception that I hear a lot in the field,” she says. “People blame the Balinese or the locals on the islands popular among divers. Local people cannot produce trash at the rate that the waves and waves of tourists from wealthy countries in the West are capable of. People from the West need to think about their own impacts and try to reduce [their waste] when on vacation.”

Our Paper on Benthic Ecosystem Health and Local Marine Economies in Florida and the Gulf

Iain and I wrote a brief paper on benthic ecosystem health and the marine economy in Florida and the Gulf, and we won the $2000 EPA NARS Data prize. We used econometric methods for our analysis. The full paper will be entered in January for the main prize.


From the Press release:

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced seven undergraduate and graduate student winners for phase 1 of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) Campus Challenge, recognizing exemplary research in the area of water quality and ecosystems. Announced in February, the NARS Campus Challenge encourages students to develop proposals for research projects that find innovative ways to use NARS data about the condition of the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas.

“The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are helping our states and tribes effectively and accurately monitor the ecological condition of our surface waters, which in turn helps EPA better target program efforts to meet our Clean Water Act goals,” said Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Water Office. “These students are working to protect America’s surface water resources and bring to this challenge energy, innovative perspectives, and cutting-edge knowledge.”

The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are a series of statistically representative surveys conducted by state, tribal and federal partners about the condition of the nation’s waters using core indicators and standardized lab and field methods. In addition to providing national assessments of key water body types such as coastal areas, rivers and streams, lakes, and wetlands, NARS also helps to improve the states’ capacity for water quality monitoring and assessment.

The Phase 1 winners each received an award of $2000 for their proposals. After completing their proposed work, these students may apply for Phase 2 of the NARS Campus Research Challenge. The Phase 2 winners will be awarded $5000 each.

EPA Coastal Data Contest Winners

This week it was announced that Iain and I won the coastal data contest held by the US EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS, link here). We will use the $2000 prize to write up our formal analysis for the grand prize in January.

Our paper linked benthic ecosystem data over time with socio-economic data from coastal communities in Florida and the Gulf region whose economies depend largely on the marine industry. We used a categorical output of ecosystem health as a function of median income, percent of the local economy dependent on marine resources, and several other socio-economic indicators.

The final part of the contest involves actually running the numbers in our proposed statistical model, and is due in January. Until then we will continue to survey the work already done that links communities in Florida and the Gulf and their blue economy.

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Florida Keys

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Florida Keys


Islamorada Florida

Islamorada Florida