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A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa ecologist is among nine distinguished conservation researchers from around the world to receive a 2021 Pew Charitable Trusts fellowship in marine conservation.

Kirsten Oleson is an assistant professor in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. She will receive $150,000 over three years to address some of the most critical challenges facing the marine environment.

“We, as a society, have ignored the natural foundations that support our lives and our economies, and that make us resilient to climate change,” said Oleson. “Our island ecosystems are degrading, in part because we see the environment as infinite and ʻfree’—but this perspective rests on an incomplete and inaccurate accounting of our natural wealth.””

The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation supports mid-career scientists and other experts seeking solutions to problems affecting the world’s oceans. From studying the ecological and socioeconomic benefits provided by coastal habitats to improving shark conservation and coral reef restoration practices, the new fellows will undertake a broad range of projects to deepen our knowledge of the ocean and advance the sustainable use of marine resources.

For her part in this global endeavor, Oleson will use natural capital accounting to evaluate the contributions of coastal ecosystems to Hawaiʻi’s economy and inform decision-making about the management of marine resources.

“My project will build natural capital accounts—similar to economic accounts—that highlight the benefits to society from natural processes,” Oleson said. “The hope is to catalyze transformative change in public policy and decision-making. I’m really looking forward to working with state partners at the Division of Aquatic Resources and the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism in this effort.”

Oleson’s work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.