Marine Affairs

  • What is Marine Affairs?

    Marine affairs is the multi-disciplinary, systematic study of the human uses of coastal and ocean space and the resources found there and the myriad factors that influence that pattern of use. Central to marine affairs are concerns relating to conflict of use and the need to maintain the sustainability of the natural environment. To this end, the Department of Marine Affairs focuses on the governance of coastal and ocean uses, the need for and development of integrated approaches to governance, and the potential for governance systems and mechanisms to incorporate consideration of relevant ecosystems and their dynamics. Problems in the field 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.

    The mission of the Department of Marine Affairs is to provide leadership in the management of marine and coastal environments through distinction in teaching, research, and outreach programs. The

    department’s teaching mission is accomplished through degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Through their coursework, independent research, and internships, students develop the research, communication, and leadership skills necessary to make important professional contributions in the sustainable management of ocean and coastal resources. The faculty demonstrates “real world” applications of a marine affairs education through involvement with governments, international organizations, businesses, professional groups, and non-governmental organizations.

    In the next few pages you can learn more about the major, how you can prepare and what you can expect, available career options, and the knowledge and skills you will have when you graduate.


    Important Topics and Issues


    Ecosystem-Based Management

    Increasingly, as attention turns to management efforts on an ecosystem basis, whether in terms of coastal watersheds, the coastal zone, large marine ecosystems, fisheries, or any number of other marine issues, the need to incorporate science in coastal public policy becomes more pronounced. As such, it is also an integral part of marine affairs. A central goal of this developing approach, called ecosystem-based management, is the establishment of appropriate governance systems that utilize adaptive management techniques on an ecosystem basis.

    Climate Change

    The oceans and their resources will be affected in multiple ways by climate change. The acidity of the oceans is increasing as a result of the carbon dioxide that they have absorbed, which has dire consequences for many ecosystems and organisms including coral, lobster, clams, oysters, and many other fisheries. In the coastal zone, climate change has implications through sea level rise and potentially increasing intensity of tropical storms. Finally, the changes in ice cover at the polar caps have significant implications for ocean circulation, which is closely tied to global weather conditions.

    The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

    The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the treaty governing use of waters beyond the territorial boundaries of any nation, or what was formerly known as the “high seas,” and determining rights and responsibilities for nations within their territorial waters. For decades the United States has resisted ratifying the treaty, and remains the only major international power to do so despite the fact that every administration since Reagan has supported it. There is now more pressure than ever for the U.S. Senate to ratify UNCLOS because of global political implications. This is an ongoing debate that may see a resolution within the next few years and is a major issue in marine affairs.

    Check out the Hot Topics links to learn more about a few of the most pressing issues involving marine affairs today.


  • employmentA degree in marine affairs will prepare you for a career right after college or for a graduate career in numerous fields, including earth sciences and social sciences as they relate to the marine field. This versatile degree will allow you to establish a strong background for a career in private industry, government service, public policy, or academics. Alumni of the marine affairs program have successfully continued their education into graduate and law school, and worked as professionals in all areas of marine and environmental science and policy in both the public and private sectors.

    This major provides a strong educational background for continued study in law-especially environmental, fishery, coastal zone, admiralty, and ocean law. Students are prepared to pursue graduate and professional programs in environmental management, public administration, community planning, marine affairs, and related fields.

    In the public sector, alumni have attained positions at various levels of government in research, administration, and outreach positions for government agencies concerned with the coastal zone, environmental protection, fisheries management, and marine transportation. In the education field, a marine affairs graduate can work as a faculty member at a university or college, or as a primary- or secondary-school teacher.

    In the private sector, graduates find positions in environmental and engineering consulting firms, marine and coastal insurance, public-interest non-governmental and non-profit organizations, fisheries, marinas, ports, and companies involved in shipping.

    For detailed information on careers in this field, go to the Careers Tab.

  • 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.

    Academic Strengths

    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.

    Personal Qualities

    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.

    Job Market

    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.”

    For more information about job opportunities, go to the Careers Tab.

  • How do I prepare for a career in Marine Affairs?
    High School

    getpreparedWhile it is possible to enter a program in marine affairs with little background knowledge in the field, you should have a solid foundation in math and science if you want to pursue the Bachelor of Science degree. For the Bachelor of Arts degree, a strong combination of science, research, writing, and communication skills are most valuable. A passion for the coast and ocean is also a major advantage in the field. To gain useful experience, consider volunteering with state agencies or private organizations that work with marine or aquatic systems. This will give you the opportunity to not only work and form relationships with marine science professionals, but also develop interests that you may wish to pursue in college. Educational programs are also helpful for aspiring marine scientists. For example, organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Outward Bound, Sea Explorers (a co-ed branch of the Boy Scouts), and various universities and regional environmental centers may offer summer programs that can provide valuable marine experiences. And, never pass up a chance to talk to people who are involved in marine science and policy, such as at a school career day presentation or at a local aquarium or science museum. To find positions you can also ask your guidance counselor or try the EPA’s High School Environmental Center .


    As with any area of academic focus, preparation for a career in marine affairs must begin with the development of a solid foundation of knowledge. The Department of Marine Affairs has two different degree paths: a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts. Regardless of whether you pursue a B.S. or a B.A., you will take courses in a common core that will firmly ground you in the fundamentals of ocean and coastal management. From there, you should choose marine affairs electives in an area of interest, such as fisheries, coastal management, coastal hazards, marine pollution, shipping and ports, coastal communities, or coastal governance. If you pursue a B.S., you will have required science courses, but should take elective science courses that will provide depth in an area of interest, such as marine biology, ocean geomorphology, or fisheries science. Similarly, if you pursue a B.A., you should choose an area of interest, such as marine history or archeology, political science, economics, or anthropology. For more detailed information about the courses available in this field, go to the Curriculum Tab.

    As an undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree and eventually a graduate degree in marine affairs, you should major in marine affairs, chemistry, biology, geology, or engineering and include course work in the other sciences. Undergraduate electives in marine science are helpful to focus your area of future interest. For the Bachelor of Arts degree and eventual graduate degree in marine affairs, you should major in marine affairs, political science, public administration, geography, psychology, economics, or related field, and take other relevant courses. It is also useful to tailor your undergraduate education to fit your needs; if you can choose which research or projects you’re involved in, select topics related to marine affairs. This will provide you with background knowledge of marine and coastal issues that may not be available in other fields.

    Finally, by taking part in co-curricular activities, you can further the depth and breadth of your learning and preparation for a career. As a student of marine affairs, you may be interested in social and environmental issues. If you join groups of students interested in social and environmental topics, you can get different points of view and expand your view of the world. Learning to see the world in new ways is a vital part of your college education. Co-curricular activities, along with traditional and experiential learning, will help you do just that. For more detailed information about experiential learning in this field, go to the Experiential Learning Tab

    Graduate School

    Depending on their career goals, some students go to graduate school for either a master’s degree or a doctorate (Ph.D.). A graduate degree in marine affairs can be very useful in the fields of ocean and coastal management and policy, as many employers in both the private and public sectors seek candidates with advanced degrees. The University of Rhode Island’s Marine Affairs Graduate Program is highly regarded throughout the nation and around the world, and is one of the leading programs in the field.

    If you are interested in entering the master’s or Ph.D. programs in marine affairs, you should contact prospective mentors (see Marine Affairs Faculty) to learn more about their research programs, whether they have openings for new students in the upcoming academic year, and to arrange campus visits. You may also contact the Director of Graduate Studies in marine affairs, Dr. Richard Burroughs.

    The Leadership Alliance has prepared a valuable guide to preparing for and applying to graduate school. For more information about graduate schools in this program, go to the Graduate Studies Tab.

    Useful Links
  • What will I know and be able to do when I graduate?


    Marine affairs is an interdisciplinary degree, meaning that people who work in the field draw upon many different academic disciplines to understand problems and develop policy. Because of this, you will have a broad understanding of the natural, social, and policy sciences.

    Knowledge and skills that you will gain from the Marine Affairs Program include:

    • Knowledge of the different contemporary tools and techniques used to study marine life, habitat, and ecosystem processes;
    • An understanding of the different statutes and regulations that govern the use and conservation of our marine resources;
    • The ability to pull together this knowledge of science and policy and use it to make management decisions and solve complex environmental problems;
    • An understanding how different solutions and management decisions will affect the environment, society, and individuals; and
    • The ability to be an effective communicator.

    The curriculum in the Marine Affairs Program will give you tools to help you achieve these skills, and you will have the chance to take the initiative and develop your own knowledge and abilities to be a successful marine affairs graduate.

    For many marine affairs graduates, writing and public speaking are part of their day-to-day activities. Whether they are reporting the results of research or working with the public to generate appropriate marine management strategies, communication is of primary importance. In addition, part of being a good communicator is being able to understand the perspective of different groups of people and professionals, such as:

    • policy makers,
    • business people,
    • scientists, and
    • private citizens.

    There are two options for undergraduate degrees in marine affairs, the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S.).

    Students who pursue the B.A. must fulfill the Basic Liberal Studies requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences, including six credits each in English Communication, Fine Arts and Literature, Foreign Language/Cross-Cultural Competence, Letters, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences, and three credits in Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning. Students selecting this field are required to complete at least 30 credits (maximum 45) in marine affairs as follows. All of the following courses (12 credits): MAF 100, 120, 220, and 410 [capstone]. Five of the following courses (15 credits): MAF 312, 415, 320, 330, 413, 461, 465, 471, 472, 475, 484, and 499. One additional MAF course (three credits) must be taken to complete the required 30 credits in the degree. In addition, students must also take STA 308 and OCG 123 or 401 (if OCG 123 is taken, it may also be used toward fulfilling the Basic Liberal Studies Natural Sciences requirement). A total of 120 credits is required for graduation. At least 42 of these credits must be in courses numbered 300 or above.

    Students who pursue the B.S. must complete at least 30 credits in marine affairs with the following required MAF courses: MAF 100, 120, 220, 410 [capstone], 482; and five of the following courses: MAF 312, 320, 330, 413, 415, 461, 465, 471, 472, 475, 484, and 499. In addition to the above requirements, students must take BIO 101; OCG 123 or 401; MTH 111 or 131; and WRT 333 (3). Students must also select a total of 18 credits from the following, of which nine must be at the 300 level or above: AFS 102, 201, 202, 210, 211, 311, 312, 315, 321/322, 332, 362, 432, 483; BIO 252, 345, 355, 360, 418, 455/457; CHM 103, 112, 124/126; EEC 105, 110, 205, 310, 345, 356, 410, 432, 435, 440, 441, 456, 460; GEO 100, 103, 210, 240, 277, 320, 370, 450, 483; NRS 223, 361, 406, 409, 410, 423, 424, 440, 461; NRS/GEO 482; NRS 497; OCE 101, 215, 216, 307, 310, 311, 492; OCG 493, 494; PHY 109, 110, 111, 112, 130, 185, 186, 213, 214, 285, 286, 306; STA 308, 409, 412, 413. A total of 120 credits is required for graduation. All students pursuing a B.S. in the College of Environmental and Life Sciences, where marine affairs is housed, are required to also take six credits in English Communication, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences; three credits in Mathematics, and 15 credits chosen from Letters (3-6 credits), Fine Arts and Literature (3-6 credits), and Foreign Language and Culture (3-6 credits) for a total of 36 credits outside of the major.

  • Where can I find more information?

    The Marine Affairs Links Web page contains useful links to information on the government, state, interstate, and regional programs in the United States, international organizations and convention secretariats, non-U.S. government agencies, and other non-governmental organizations.


    cielThe Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL’s staff of international attorneys provide legal counsel and advocacy, policy research, and capacity building.

    Center for Marine Conservation provides links to articles concerned with marine conservation around the world.

    cielCenter for Marine Conservation(CRC), University of Rhode Island furnishes information on the CRC and its work and also a survey database on coastal resource management worldwide by region and by country.

    cielNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency, housed within the United States Department of Commerce that is responsible for the majority of the government’s oceanic research capacities. It is also responsible for managing various ocean resources, and conducts research crucial to policy-making and effective management on the coastal zone, climate change, fisheries, marine protected areas, and other topics.

    cielSeaGrant National Sea Grant College Program is NOAA’s primary university-based program in support of coastal resource use and conservation. Sea Grant engages a network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training, and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources.

    cielEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment. EPA’s purpose is to ensure, among other things, that environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy. The EPA oversees regulations that are important in the marine affairs field, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
  • Who can I contact for more information?

    contactsFor more information, or to speak with a representative from the Department of Marine Affairs, please contact:
    Dr. Robert Thompson
    Chair, Department of Marine Affairs
    Tel:(401) 874-4485
    Web page:


    Judith Palmer
    Department of Marine Affairs
    University of Rhode Island, Coastal Institute Suite 205
    1 Greenhouse Road
    Kingston, RI 02881
    Tel:(401) 874-2596
    Fax:(401) 874-2156
    Web page:

    We are located on the second floor of the Kingston Coastal Institute, on the corner of Flagg and Greenhouse Roads on the north side of campus.