Kelly's work examines ecosystem service valuation for marine resources and the policy implications for coastal communities. She focuses on ecosystem services provided by sea grass, fisheries, mangroves, coastal wetlands, and coral reef systems. Her research sheds light on how coastal communities manage their resources cooperatively while still deriving economic benefits and livelihoods from their local resource stock. The resilience of coastal communities depends on marine-based resources and it will be put to the test as the impacts of climate change begin to intensify in the coming decades. Since a majority of the world’s population lives on the coast, natural resource managers and policy-makers must make ever more fair, efficient, stable, and wise decisions related to coastal planning, coastal resource management, and shoreline management. She argues that economic pathways to these decisions can be instrumental in enhancing natural resource management.
Kelly's field sites are located across Indonesia and Malaysia, where she worked in post-dynamite reef communities that are slowly resorting their reefs, in communities tucked away in Ramsar-designated mangrove forests, and in fishing villages coming to terms with changing regulations, gear, and fisheries stocks. She relies on a mixed methods approach to research, drawing on in-depth interviews and focus groups with community members and applied quantitative approaches. She also combines spatial analytics through a GIS platform with ecosystem and socioeconomic data to build knowledge on coastal resource management and policy-making.
Kelly's position in the Science Impact Collaborative is related to her role as a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Marine Policy Center where she is designing a cost benefit framework to analyze the impact of dredging on ecosystem services of coastal wetlands, salt marshes, and oyster reefs in major urban estuaries.