Kirsten L.L. Oleson, Ph.D.


Kirsten L.L. Oleson, Ph.D.


field shot
Kirsten Oleson crouches beside lauae ferns on Oahu’s windward side. Oleson’s research will focus on determining the true economic contributions of marine resources in the state.
Tom Oliver

Valuing benefits from marine ecosystems to inform coastal conservation in Hawaii 

From stretches of coral reef that protect coastlines to marine life that attracts visitors, Hawaii’s rich and diverse marine ecosystems provide goods and services that support communities and the state’s economy. Yet despite their importance, traditional economic indicators, such as gross domestic product, underestimate the value of nature. This undervaluation is particularly acute in the marine environment, where “blue” wealth is less visible than on land, and often leads to coastal management decisions that endanger sources of prosperity. 

Kirsten L.L. Oleson will use natural capital accounting—a method of systematically assessing the economic importance of nature by treating its goods and services as assets—to evaluate the contributions of coastal ecosystems to the Hawaiian economy and inform management decision-making.

Oleson will quantify and map various “accounts” of the state’s natural assets to rigorously measure economic tradeoffs involved with coastal development and protection measures, and she will use scenario modeling and targeted policy analyses to identify priority areas for conservation interventions. Oleson will form a diverse advisory group, including decision-makers and Indigenous knowledge holders, to inform the research and use an online public platform to disseminate her analyses and supporting data.

In addition, she will train students and state agency staff in natural capital accounting practices, which, despite recognition by the United Nations, have yet to be widely adopted to elucidate tradeoffs and synergies among economic and environmental goals.

To learn more about Oleson, read her bio:

See the full list of 2021 Pew marine fellows.

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