Is this field for me?
Many students who enter the field of marine affairs have a passion for some coastal or marine use, whether it be sailing, surfing, going to the beach, fishing, or other activity. People want to preserve the use of the ocean for themselves and others and continue to practice the activities they love, but sometimes these are threatened. For example, commercial or recreational fishing may be limited as a result of depleted fish stocks, or the public’s right to use the beach may be challenged by public access abilities. Marine affairs is also a good fit for environmentally conscious students who would like to specialize in one specific subject area. Because URI’s program is in Rhode Island, many marine affairs topics are New England-based; however, there are many opportunities to learn about marine issues at the international and national levels, including the Caribbean. The field of marine affairs combines science and policy so students gain an understanding of the scientific necessities and knowledge behind many coastal public policies, and learn what policies are created and why. Students can then apply that knowledge to policy-making based on sound science going forward.
Students who are interested in coastal and ocean management can either pursue a degree in marine affairs as a career or take marine affairs courses and then apply that knowledge to other related careers in fields such as education, political science, environmental sciences, and others. Students interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Affairs are strongly encouraged to take as much science and math as they can in high school, and feel confident in their abilities in these subjects. Because they may find themselves managing human behavior while they are involved in coastal or ocean management, students should also take courses in the social sciences and humanities. Similarly, students interested in the Bachelor of Arts in Marine Affairs should take natural science courses in high school, but may excel in research, writing, and communication and be interested in government and public policy. Regardless of whether one pursues a B.S. or a B.A., problem solving today requires managers with interdisciplinary educations that enable them to handle complex management problems. The ability to make connections between subjects is also critical because marine affairs involves problem solving and fitting details into a coherent larger picture. Problems range across a spectrum of experiences and settings, including oil spills, fisheries management, marine protected areas, coastal hazards, tourism, coastal and marine spatial planning, and climate change.
Success in marine affairs, as in any other field, is largely determined by the student’s willingness to put effort into his or her own education. Other factors are also important. A love of the coast and ocean is certainly a common characteristic that motivates many of our students. Yet, because so many people feel so strongly about how our coastal areas and oceans should be managed, marine affairs students need to be willing to learn the necessary natural science to understand the environmental issues while also learning about the cultural, economic, aesthetic, legal, and political dimensions of coastal problems. Only by working hard to develop an interdisciplinary understanding can a student or manager develop acceptable management options.
The job market ranges from work with non-governmental organizations (such as the Audubon Society or The Nature Conservancy), to positions with local or state governments, to careers available with federal government agencies (such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service), to jobs with international organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. The highest paid positions are usually in the private sector with consulting firms that do environmental impact statements and wildlife assessment work. The best opportunities are available to those with a master’s degree or above.
According to the National Science Foundation, “Earning a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering (S&E) appears to serve the recipient well in the workforce, regardless of the job they do. In fact, according to a National Science Foundation (NSF) survey, people who have earned an S&E bachelor’s degree generally report that science and engineering knowledge is important to their job.”