Our Work

Natural Resources Policy Solutions

How can we better protect and leverage natural resources to deliver benefits for both the environment and human beings? That question is at the heart of many Nicholas Institute projects, especially as our world confronts the impacts of climate change, poverty, food insecurity, plastic pollution, and other crises. Check out a few examples from FY 2023.
Mangrove planting


Nicholas Institute Offers Guidance to Implement Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, manage, or restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges—and they are a fundamental tool for addressing the climate crisis. As momentum for nature-based solutions grows, the Nicholas Institute is working to identify opportunities to implement these projects, understand and measure their benefits for people and ecosystems, and provide relevant planning and communications resources for natural resource managers.

Exploring Current Issues

A webinar series organized by the National Ecosystem Services Partnership and the Resilience Roadmap project features panel discussions with experts working in the field about current nature-based solutions issues and promising practices.

View the webinar series →

Informing Federal Resilience Planning

Since late 2021, Lydia Olander, director of the Ecosystem Services Program, has served in a dual role as director of nature-based resilience at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In November 2022, Olander was part of a CEQ team that authored a nature-based solutions roadmap for the United States (PDF).

In addition, the Resilience Roadmap project, led by Nicholas Institute experts Elizabeth Losos and Sara Mason, published a methods brief that recommends a common approach to developing key performance indicators for climate change adaptation and resilience planning at the federal level.

Read the Resilience Roadmap methods brief →

Setting Land Conservation Priorities in NC

The Nicholas Institute and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina developed two online tools to help North Carolina conservation organizations and land trusts evaluate the benefits of natural and working lands to climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation.

Read an overview →

Managing Natural and Working Lands

Drawing from experience in North Carolina, the Nicholas Institute developed a guidebook that walks through the planning process for developing a state-level natural and working lands climate action plan and offers helpful resources. The institute also collaborated with the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont to assess how management activities on various types of natural and working lands affect biodiversity and carbon storage.

Read the guidebook →

Explore the assessment →

North Carolina land map


Land area in North Carolina covered by natural and working lands, such as farms, forests, and wetlands


Study Reveals Big Impact of Small-Scale Fisheries

Published in March, the Illuminating Hidden Harvests report sheds light on the outsized role of small-scale fisheries in global food security and sustainable development. The report culminates a years-long research effort—led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Duke University, and WorldFish—to better inform governance of these critical resources.

Experts who contributed to the report, including dozens of Duke scholars and students

Tanzanian fish market image credit FAO Luis Tato

This report provides perhaps the clearest picture to date of the global importance of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development. The data and recommendations in this report can support policymaking at all levels and, we hope, empower fishing communities and their advocates to push for productive, sustainable, and equitable small-scale fisheries.

John Virdin

Director, Ocean and Coastal Policy Program

Mangrove planting

As decision-makers around the world increasingly address plastic across its life cycle, we are excited to host resources that can support a comprehensive understanding of the plastics policy landscape and help identify gaps that need to be filled.

Rachel Karasik

Senior Policy Associate


Duke Tools Help Policymakers, Researchers Tackle Plastics Crisis

To better inform decision-making on the plastics crisis, the Nicholas Institute has expanded its suite of resources dedicated to plastics policy while deepening research partnerships across Duke and internationally. A team of institute experts and Duke students completed a major update to the Plastics Policy Inventory, a searchable database of public policies introduced around the world to reduce plastic use and waste. In addition, a new library connects individual policies to studies of their effectiveness.

Public policies from around the world catalogued in the Plastics Policy Inventory

Education Highlight

Zoie Diana holding a test tube in a lab.

Student Profile: Zoie Diana

Zoie Diana, a 2023 Ph.D. graduate of the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Marine Science and Conservation Department, has been an integral part of the Nicholas Institute’s work to develop a knowledge base for policymakers to address the plastic crisis. Diana also helped establish and led the Plastic Pollution Working Group, an interdisciplinary group of more than 60 scholars and students from 12 Duke schools and departments that aims to better understand issues around plastic pollution while working to develop solutions.

“During my Ph.D. studies at Duke, I worked extensively with the Nicholas Institute, which allowed me to connect my research on multi-sector mitigation of plastic pollution to the community of practice working on plastics policymaking,” said Diana, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. “I’m very grateful for this experience and learned so much from the institute’s faculty and staff and other students. In addition to publications, we produced policy reports, memos, webinars, and open-access data sources that build a foundation for plastic policy research.”

More in Natural Resources Policy Solutions

People boating through flooded neighborhood

Improving Resilience to Water-Related Disasters

The 2022 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum convened thought leaders to explore what must be done to ensure the water sector becomes more resilient to increasingly common water-related disasters.

Water droplet rendered as network connections

Modernizing Water Data Infrastructure

The Duke Internet of Water team developed the Technology Adoption Program to address both the adoption of modern technology at public agencies and an organizational and cultural evolution in how data are managed, shared, and deployed for decision-making.

Salt marsh at Fish Haul Creek on Hilton Head Island, SC

Protecting Healthy Coastal Habitats

An analysis of coastal habitat policy in six states—California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington—aims to identify promising policy approaches for improved protection and restoration of oyster reefs, mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass.