Nickel laterite ore deposits are becoming increasingly important sources of Ni for the global marketplace and are found mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Cuba, and New Caledonia. There are few legislatively derived standards or guidelines for the protection of aquatic life for Ni in many of these tropical regions, and bioavailability-based environmental risk assessment (ERA) approaches for metals have mainly been developed and tested in temperate regions, such as the United States and Europe. This paper reports on a multi-institutional, 5-y testing program to evaluate Ni exposure, effects, and risk characterization in the Southeast Asia and Melanesia (SEAM) region, which includes New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Further, we have developed an approach to determine if the individual components of classical ERA, including effects assessments, exposure assessments, and risk characterization methodologies (which include bioavailability normalization), are applicable in this region. A main conclusion of this research program is that although ecosystems and exposures may be different in tropical systems, ERA paradigms are constant. A large chronic ecotoxicity data set for Ni is now available for tropical species, and the data developed suggest that tropical ecosystems are not uniquely sensitive to Ni exposure; hence, scientific support exists for combining tropical and temperate data sets to develop tropical environmental quality standards (EQSs). The generic tropical database and tropical exposure scenarios generated can be used as a starting point to examine the unique biotic and abiotic characteristics of specific tropical ecosystems in the SEAM region. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2021;00:1–12. © 2021 The Authors. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry (SETAC).