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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:

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

  • Northern Australia is one of the few places left in the world with sawfish and river shark populations, making it a key priority to protect them. A major challenge is the lack of information on current populations, which limits the ability to develop effective management strategies. This project will gather knowledge as an important early step in enhancing protection measures. There is much research and activities underway to understand the distribution and status of sawfish and river sharks. It is important we understand the knowledge held and experiences of commercial fishers. Northern Territory  Seafood Council (NTSC) is partnering with community and livelihoods researcher Natasha Stacey from Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Drs Vinay Udyawer and Claire Streten from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS)  to undertake interviews with fishers as part of a project.

    Through their time at sea, professional fishers obtain important knowledge of the occurrence, seasonal presence and long-term changes through their encounters with Threatened and Endangered and Protected Species. Knowledge from fishers engaged in the NT Barramundi Fishery and Offshore Net and Line Fishery was identified as one of the key pieces of information lacking for the development of a management plan for sawfish and siver sharks in Northern Australia (Department of Environment, 2015). 

    The objective of this project is to improve current knowledge of the occurrence of sawfish (Pristis spp.) and river sharks (Glyphis spp.) in fishing grounds of the NT through recording commercial fishers’ knowledge about species in interviews. This information will be used to inform sampling and tagging of species in coastal and estuarine areas of the NT.

    The project will assist with delivery of new information to inform decision making, whilst also building relationships, between fishers, social and natural science researchers, industry and fishery managers and shared understanding and knowledge of sawfish and river sharks. 

    More information about the project can be found via the Northern Territory Seafood Council Inc website or contact or Natasha Stacey at Charles Darwin University ( ).

  • This project led by A/Prof Natasha Stacey reviewed the Aboriginal Coastal Licence (ACL) regime in Maningrida with the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation and provided an evaluation of its benefits, vulnerabilities and recommendations.

    Research outputs are in preparation but a summary of ACL regime is provided in Jentoft et al (2019). We are also developing additional research with partners to support further development of Indigenous fisheries futures in the Northern Territory (2020).

    The Yokarra Crew – What we learned from catching and selling fish in and around Maningrida, Arnhem Land (PDF, 1.31 MB)

  • We recently completed a co-led ACIAR funded project with Murdoch University, IPB and LIPI to identify the new approaches to coastal livelihood diversification in eastern Indonesia (Loneragan et al 2018; Stacey et al 2019).

    This synthesis of current knowledge and analysis of coastal livelihood programs will contribute towards improved applied, gender-balanced, action-driven research in Indonesia in the future. The final report can be found at:

    Stacey, N., E. Gibson. N. Loneragan., C. Warren, R. Fitriana, B. Wirayawan and D. Adhuri (2019) Enhancing coastal livelihoods in Indonesia: an evaluation of recent initiatives on gender, women and livelihoods in small-scale fisheries, Maritime Studies:142 Special Issue (En)Gendering Change in Small-scale Fisheries and Fishing Communities in a Globalized World.

    Stacey, N., E. Gibson. N. Loneragan., C. Warren, B. Wirayawan, D. Adhuri, D. Steenbergen and R. Fitriana (2021) Developing sustainable small-scale fisheries livelihoods in Indonesia: trends, enabling and constraining factors, and future opportunities. Marine Policy, Marine Policy, 132,

  • Stacey, N., E. Gibson. N. Loneragan., C. Warren, B. Wirayawan, D. Adhuri, D. Steenbergen and R. Fitriana (2021) Developing sustainable small-scale fisheries livelihoods in Indonesia: trends, enabling and constraining factors, and future opportunities. Marine Policy, Marine Policy, 132,

    Hunnam K, Carlos I, Hammer M, Dos Reis Lopes J, Mills D and Stacey N (2021) Untangling Tales of Tropical Sardines: Local Knowledge From Fisheries in Timor-Leste. Frontiers in Marine Science. 8:673173. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.673173

    Bonis-Profumo, G., Stacey, N. & Brimblecombe, J. 2021. Measuring women's empowerment in agriculture, food production, and child and maternal dietary diversity in Timor-Leste. Food Policy, 102, 102102.

    Ahammad R, Stacey N, Sunderland T. (2021) Determinants of forest and tree uses across households of different sites and ethnicities in Bangladesh  Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy, 17:1, 232-242, DOI: 10.1080/15487733.2021.1930731

    Ahammad, R., Stacey, N., and Sunderland, T. (2021). Analysis of forest-related policies for supporting ecosystem services-based forest management in Bangladesh. Ecosystem Services 48, 101235.

    Gibson, E., Stacey N., Sunderland, T. and Adhuri, D. (2021). Coping or adapting? Experiences of food and nutrition insecurity in specialized fishing households in Komodo District, eastern Indonesia, BMC Public Health 21, 355.

    Bonis-Profumo G, Stacey N, Brimblecombe J. (2021) Maternal diets matter for children's dietary quality: Seasonal dietary diversity and animal-source foods consumption in rural Timor-Leste. Maternal and Child Nutrition;17: e13071.

    Ahammad R, Stacey N, Sunderland T. (2020). Assessing land use changes and livelihood outcomes of rural people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, Bangladesh. Land Degradation & Development, 1–13.

    Gibson E, Stacey N, Sunderland TCH, Adhuri DS (2020) Dietary diversity and fish consumption of mothers and their children in fisher households in Komodo District, eastern Indonesia. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0230777.

    Gibson, E and N. Stacey 2019 Gender matters in coastal livelihood programs in Indonesia The Conversation 19 December 2019

    Steenbergen, D., H. Eriksson, K. Hunnam, D. Mills and N. Stacey (2019) Following the fish inland: understanding fish distribution networks for rural development and food security in Timor-Leste, Food Security YouTube video summary

    Stacey, N., E. Gibson. N. Loneragan., C. Warren, R. Fitriana, B. Wirayawan and D. Adhuri (2019) Enhancing coastal livelihoods in Indonesia: an evaluation of recent initiatives on gender, women and livelihoods in small-scale fisheries, Maritime Studies:142 Special Issue (En)Gendering Change in Small-scale Fisheries and Fishing Communities in a Globalized World.

    Steenbergen, D., Clifton, J., Visser, L., Stacey, N., McWilliam, A. (2017). Understanding Coastal Livelihoods in the Arafura and Timor Seas: Impacts and Opportunities of Contemporary Approaches to Development, Conservation and Resource Governance. Understanding influences in policy landscapes for sustainable coastal livelihoods. Marine Policy Vol 82:181-188

    Loneragan, N.R., Stacey, N., Warren, C., Gibson, E., Fitriana R., Adhuri, D., Jaiteh, V.J., Mustika P.L.K., Steenbergen D.J. and Wiryawan, B. (2018) “Small-scale fisheries in Indonesia: benefits to households, the roles of women, and opportunities for improving livelihoods” Prepared for the ACIAR Small Research Activity, Project Number FIS/2014/104. Available at

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).

  • Members of our group recently contributed to the Department of Foreign Affairs funded GFPD Program (1.2 million AUD over 4 years) with the ANU, Indonesian universities and government agencies to investigate environmental and social issues and build capacity associated with small scale artisanal mining for manganese and gold in eastern Indonesia (e.g. Fischer et al 2019). Dr Hannah Ling’s (PhD) 2019 considered local perspectives, values and belief associated with small-scale manganese mining in West Timor, Indonesia.

    Ling, H. 2017, ‘Community mining in West Timor’, Inside Indonesia, 130,

    Fisher, R, Ling, H, Natonis, R, Hobgen, S, Kaho, NR, Mudita, W, Markus, J, Bunga, W & Nampa, W 2018, Artisanal and small-scale mining and rural livelihood diversification: The case of manganese extraction in West Timor, Indonesia, The Extractive Industries and Society, 10.1016/j.exis.2018.08.004


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.