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Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods

Communities, livelihoods and natural resources

Research group
fish in net on beach with fishers


Our research aims to produce knowledge to enhance the livelihoods and wellbeing of Indigenous and local communities, while maintaining resource sustainability in Northern Australia and the Asia Pacific region, in particular, Indonesia and Timor Leste. We undertake multidisciplinary impact-orientated research on the interactions between people, the environment and livelihoods. We work in many different natural resource contexts including fisheries, aquaculture, forests, mangroves, agriculture and artisanal mining. Since the inception of RIEL in 2004 the group has established a strong track record in research the following areas:

  • Indigenous and Local Natural and Cultural Resource Management

  • Livelihoods Improvement and Indigenous Enterprise Development

  • Livelihoods, Food Security, and Gender

  • Capacity Building for Agricultural and Environmental Management

More info: contact Associate Professor Natasha Stacey,

Specialist expertise and technical skills

We have a diverse range of expertise in areas such as applied anthropology, sociology, geography, resource management, environmental management, community and international development. This allows us to integrate data and knowledge across disciplines and perspectives to generate fresh insights into natural resource-based livelihoods. The group uses many different research methods including qualitative, quantitative and participatory tools. We collaborate with a wide range of research, industry, government and community partners to offer:

  • Domestic and international higher degree by research (master and PhD)

  • Advice and knowledge in natural resource-based enterprise development, including fisheries, aquaculture, gender and community-based natural and cultural resource management.

Meet the team

This group includes, among other contributors:



  • Dr Pia Harkness
  • Dr Ronju Ahammad
  • Dr Dirk Steenbergen
  • Dr Hannah Ling
  • Dr Kamy Melvani

Key achievements and impacts

Our multidisciplinary approach to resource management and livelihoods has attracted numerous international and national research grants and consultancies, postdoctoral researchers and domestic and international postgraduate scholars.

  • We conduct our research via collaborative partnerships - locally at CDU and across the Northern Territory, and interstate, and internationally with Indigenous and local community, government and NGO partners.

  • Our work contributed to the CDU ERA assessment which achieved scores of 5 in environmental science and management.

  • Our projects are built on trust, awareness of different values and worldviews, and participatory engagement through ‘action research’ to ensure research is delivering end user benefits.

  • Our research findings highlight the need for local level ownership of livelihood development and demonstrate that culture is an intimate component of any Indigenous enterprise.

  • We generate tailored research outputs through peer-reviewed publications, Master and PhD theses, and knowledge transfer through undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and other communication activity (e.g. media, seminars, conferences).

Why this research is important

Through our research partnerships we strive to make an impact through knowledge and capacity building that will benefit the environment and communities. We also want to develop confident, highly skilled and passionate scholars who can work cross culturally in multidisciplinary research to address real world problems in Australia and internationally.

Key projects

Interested in natural resource-based livelihoods?

More on our past research

  • Our group's research responds to global calls by academics and international development practitioners for better integration of local resource user groups in sustainable coastal management and governance following continuing trends of failure by centralized policy initiatives. Our research publications have contributed significantly to global literature. Our research (last 5 years) has focussed on development of new approaches to manage and govern fisheries (e.g. Prescott et al 2015; 2017, Steenbergen et al 2017; Steenbergen et al (2019)); critiques of current livelihood programs (e.g. Foale et al 2013, Steenbergen et al 2017; Loneragan et al 2018), and conservation impacts on Indigenous fishing peoples (Stacey et al 2015, 2017; 2018; Stacey & Allison 2019).

    We have been at the forefront of research into investigations of the contribution of small scale fisheries to livelihoods and wellbeing at a global scale through invitation to participate in global networks, contribute written work to special publications by the FAO/IUCN (Stacey et al 2017) and as co-editor of book (Johnson, D, Acott, T, Stacey, N & Urquart, J (eds) (2018), Social Wellbeing and the Values of Small-scale Fisheries, Springer). We recently co-led an ACIAR funded project with Murdoch University to identify new approaches to livelihood diversification in eastern Indonesia (Loneragan et al 2018; Stacey et al 2019). We convened a Coastal Livelihoods Symposium in 2016 with the outputs published in Special Issue of Marine Policy journal (

    This was an outcome of the NAMRA-funded Postdoctoral research project on Understanding Coastal Livelihoods in the Arafura and Timor Seas: Impacts and opportunities of contemporary approaches to development, conservation and resource governance (Dr Dirk Steenbergen 2014-2018).

    Through our long-standing record of research and engagement in Indonesia and Timor Leste through our association with the Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF) and research contributions to the USD 3 million dollar Global Environment Facility Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) Program we led the first study exchange which bought together members of communities from Indonesia, Timor Leste and Aboriginal land and sea rangers in Arnhem Land to share experiences in community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) (Stacey et al 2015). The results of this initiative identified key factors for capacity building and a framework for evaluating such initiatives.

  • We collaborate with numerous land council and Indigenous organisations (e.g. NAILSMA, NLC/CLC) andthe NT government on a portfolio of research activity to assist Indigenous people realise their aspirations for caring and working on country and development of wildlife enterprises. This builds on previous work of the pre-RIEL NTU Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife record of research into natural resource based livelihoods (by past CDU researchers such as Gorman, Whitehead, Griffiths). Our research has included investigations into plant and animal enterprises (e.g. Kakadu plum, sugar bag, crocodile eggs (e.g. Austin and Garnett et al 2011; Zander et al 2016; Gorman et al 2012; 2016). In the coastal zone our past research activity has included sea cucumber and oyster aquaculture development in Warruwi, Goulburn Island and climate change impacts funded by NCCARF and NAMRA programs with Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation (e.g. Fleming et al 2014; Petheram et al 2013, 2014, 2015); building Indigenous marine science capacity evaluation (Stacey and Funk 2017).

    A decade of sustained community engagement has enabled a research collaboration with the Wadeye, NT, community. The collaboration aims to support community efforts to establish an enterprise based on abundant sources of Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) on traditional clan estates. This work is investigating the role of supply chain actors and external factors that have influenced the direction of enterprise development, alongside community aspirations for the development of Kakadu plum enterprises (Gorman et al 2019a, Gorman et al 2019b).


Indigenous Fisheries in the Northern Territory

Jentoft, S, Stacey, N, Sunde, J and González, M (2019). ‘The Small-Scale Fisheries of Indigenous Peoples: A Struggle for Secure Tenure Rights’. In R. Chuenpagdee and S. Jentoft (Eds): Transdisciplinarity for Small-Scale Fisheries Governance, MARE Publication Series, Vol. 21, Springer. Chapter 14 pp 263-282.

Stacey, N, Wilton, D and Stewart, J (2018). Maningrida Aboriginal Coastal fishing enterprise: lessons learned and future prospects. AIATSIS Native Title Conference, Broome, WA 7 June 2018.

Forests and Livelihoods in Bangladesh

Ahammad, R., Stacey, N and Sunderland, T (2019). ‘Use and Perceived Importance of Forest Ecosystem Services in Rural Livelihoods of People in Bangladesh’. Ecosystem Services. 35:87-98.

Ahammad, R, Stacey, N, Tomscha, S and Eddy, I (2019). ‘Recent trends of forest cover change and ecosystem services in eastern upland region of Bangladesh’. Science of the Total Environment

Sunderland, T, Abdoulaye, R, Ahammad, R, Asaha, S, Baudron, F, Deakin, E, Duriaux, J-Y, Eddy, I, Foli, S, Gumbo, G, Kondwani, M, Kshatriya, M, Leonald, L, Rowland, D, Stacey, N, Tomsha, S, Yang, K, and Gergel, S (2017). ‘A Methodological Approach for Assessing Cross-Site Landscape Change: Understanding Socio-Ecological Systems’. Forest Policy and Economics

Abdullah, A, Stacey, N, Myers, B, Zander, K and Garnett, S (2016). ‘Impacts of cyclone Aila on household incomes in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh: short-term economic equalisation’. Natural Hazards. 83:1103-1123. DOI 10.1007/s11069-016-2358-1

Abdullah, A, Stacey, N, Myers, B, Zander, K and Garnett, S (2016). ‘The impact of the expansion of shrimp aquaculture on livelihoods in coastal Bangladesh’. Environment, Development and SustainabilityDOI: 10.1007/s10668-016-9824-5

Abdullah, AN, Stacey, N, Garnett, ST and Myers, B (2016). ‘Economic dependence on mangrove forest resources for livelihoods in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh’. Forest Policy and Economics. Vol 64: 15-24. doi:10.1016/j.forpol.2015.12.009

Small scale fisheries in Indonesia and Timor Leste

Stacey, N and Allison, EH. (2019). ‘Sea Nomads: Sama-Bajau Mobility, Livelihoods and Marine Conservation in Southeast Asia’ , in King, TJ. and Robinson, G (eds), At Home on the Waves: Human Habitation of the Sea from the Mesolithic to Today, Berghahn Press. Pp 309-331.

Stacey, N, Steenbergen, D J, Clifton, J and Acciaioli, G (2018). ‘Understanding Social Wellbeing and values of Small Scale fisheries amongst the Sama-Bajau of insular Southeast Asia’, in Johnson, D, Acott, T, Urquart, J and Stacey, N (eds), Social Wellbeing and the Values of Small Scale Fisheries, MARE Publication Series 17, Springer; pp97-123.

Acott, T, Johnson, D Urquart, J and Stacey, N (2018). ‘Reflections on social wellbeing and the values of small-scale fisheries’, in Johnson, D, Acott, T, Urquart, J and Stacey, N (eds), Social Wellbeing and the Values of Small Scale Fisheries, MARE Publication Series Vol 17, Springer, pp 317-332.

Stacey, N, Steenbergen, DJ, Clifton, J and Acciaioli, G (2017). ‘Impacts of Marine Protected Areas on Livelihoods and Food Security the Bajau as an Indigenous Migratory People in Maritime Southeast Asia’. In Westland, L, Charles, A., Garcia, S., Sanders, J. (eds) Marine Protected Areas: Interactions with Fisheries Livelihoods and Food Security, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, No 603, Rome, FAO.pp 113-126.

Prescott, J, Riwu, J, Prasetyo, A and Stacey, N. (2017). ‘The money side of livelihoods: Economics of an unregulated small-scale Indonesian sea cucumber fishery in the Timor Sea’. Marine Policy, Vol 82:197-201;

Prescott, J, Riwu, J, Stacey, N, and Prasetyo, A, (2016). ‘An unlikely partnership: Data collection in a small scale fishery in the Timor Sea’. Special issue of Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries: Indigenous participation and partnerships in research and management of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems. doi: 10.1007/s11160-015-9417-7

Stacey, N, Karam, J, Jackson, M, Kennett, R and Wagey, G (2015). ‘Knowledge Exchange as a Tool for Transboundary and Coastal Management of the Arafura and Timor Seas’, Ocean and Coastal Management. doi:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2015.06.007

Stacey, N (2007). Boats to Burn: Bajo fishing activity in the Australian Fishing Zone, Asia-Pacific Environment Monograph Series, ANU E Press, Canberra.

Evaluating Jointly Managed Protected Areas through Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Stacey, N, Izurieta, A and Garnett, ST (2013). ‘Collaborative measurement of performance of jointly managed protected areas in northern Australia’. Ecology and Society, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 19.

Izurieta, A, Stacey, N and Karam, J with contributions by Moyses, M, Ledgar, R, Burslem, M, Scopel, D, Donohoe, P, Donohoe, P and Panton, B (2011). Guidebook for Supporting Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation of Jointly Managed Parks in the Northern Territory, Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, 53pps.