Nov 24, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Ask any classroom of 10-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and at least one of them will respond with “marine biologist.” And with good reason: The allure of the ocean and its inhabitants is strong. For some students, however, the desire to play an important role in preserving and managing the invaluable resources of the coast and the ocean persists throughout their undergraduate years, leading them to pursue exciting and fulfilling advanced studies in the field of coastal and marine management.

Read on to learn about how pursuing a master’s degree in marine management can help you bring your career dreams to life, along with one particularly exciting location for studies in this field.

What is Coastal and Marine Management?

As population and development have increased, the world’s coastal resources have gone from abundant to endangered. The field of coastal and marine management aims to safeguard marine plants, marine animals, water resources, and natural resources from rising threats in order to preserve them for future generations. Unfortunately, this can be easier said than done considering the vast economic, environmental and cultural factors in the mix.

Coastal and marine management studies comprise a number of topics, including the specifics of ocean and sediment movement and transport; the actions of waves, tides and currents; and marine biology and archaeology. Coastal and marine management students also learn about how to manage the conflicts that arise regarding the use of coastal resources, along with the legal, institutional, and socioeconomic issues which impact decision-making.

Why Study Coastal and Marine Management?

There’s no denying that the field of coastal and marine management is an interesting one, but it’s also an extremely dynamic one -- particularly when you consider the challenges ahead.

For starters, there’s the rapid growth of human populations in coastal regions. According to a recent PLOS ONE journal article, “Coastal zones have always attracted humans because of their rich resources, particularly their supply of subsistence resources; for logistical reasons, as they offer access points to marine trade and transport; for recreational or cultural activities; or simply because of their special sense of place at the interface between land and sea. The development and utilization of coastal zones has greatly increased during the recent decades and coasts are undergoing tremendous socio-economic and environmental changes—a trend which is expected to continue in future.”

While much of the focus is on Asia and Africa, the US is also home to a significant coastal population. Says the National Ocean Service, “In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), but account for 39 percent of the total population. From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40% and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people or 8% by 2020. Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.”

Not only is this placing increasing stress on coastal and marine ecosystems through increased utilization, pollution, and global warming, but it’s also increasing the exposure risk of larger numbers of people to hazards, including sea-level rise.

Says World Ocean Review, “Climate change is placing increasing pressure on coastal regions which are already seriously affected by intensive human activity. This raises the question of whether – or to what extent – these areas will retain their resi­dential and economic value in the decades and centuries to come, or whether they may instead pose a threat to the human race. Also, we do not know what changes will occur to the coastal ecosystems and habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass meadows and salt marshes that provide the livelihood of coastal communities in many places….During the same timeframe the coastal megacities will continue to grow.”

As a result, more experts will be needed to navigate this uncertain terrain. Concludes the PLOS ONE article, “Further research is required to better understand the human-environment interactions in coastal regions, improve forecasts of impacts and responses for a better management of coastal change and to build resilient and sustainable coastal communities now and into the future.” 

Indeed, the opportunities are plentiful for graduates trained in this area. Says University Centre of the Westfjords’ Coastal and Marine Management program director Catherine Chambers, “Our students end up in a wide range of jobs depending on their personal interest and engagement in coastal issues. The majority end up as planners in local or regional institutions, many others work for NGOs or national institutions on research and planning topics, several go on to doctoral studies, and a handful work as consultants related to marine management issues.”

Learn at the Heart of it All

While coastal and marine management is a concern germane to the entire planet, Iceland and the Atlantic Ocean are uniquely positioned at the heart of many issues. The country’s leadership in the area of sustainability, meanwhile, makes it an even more appropriate place to learn.

Enter the master’s degree program in Coastal and Marine Management (CMM) at the University Centre of the Westfjords. Positioned on the frontlines of the fight to protect coastal and marine resources, this international, multidisciplinary program in natural resource management is built on the principles and practices of biology, sociology, economics and business studies. Taught in English by the University Centre of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður in co-operation with the University of Akureyri, the program imbues students with the knowledge and skills they need not only to understand the innumerable and valuable resources of the coast and oceans, but also to manage them in the most positive way.

Continues Chambers, “The program draws on multiple disciplines to solve the multi-faceted problems facing our coastal and marine systems. Students learn about social, economic and biological aspects of marine issues to help them become leaders in the decision-making process. Being based in a small, remote coastal community in Iceland also gives students first-hand experiences of what real life is like living in close connection with the coast.”

Adds Theresa Henke, a current CMM student from Germany, of the benefits of studying marine management at the University Centre of the Westfjords, “What I like most about the University Centre and the country is a combination of the people and the nature. Living so close to the ocean and the mountains is already fascinating but the people I met along the way, both local and from all over the world, have made it a truly incredible experience so far.”

Don’t have a background in a marine field? You, and the University Centre of the Wesfjords, still have plenty to offer. The Centre offers programs, like the recently developed Master’s in Coastal Communities and Regional Development designed around a multi-disciplinary approach to this vital field. According to Chambers, “There are multiple voices and interests and many opinions about what is “best” for coastal and marine areas. That is why it is important to train managers with a broad, yet critical, background in order to ensure truly sustainable social-ecological marine and coastal systems. We have students from all backgrounds because today’s complex coastal management problems involve many disciplines: ecology, oceanography, geology, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, political science, education, business, marketing, graphic design, literature, and many more.”

“The diversity and productivity of the world’s oceans is a vital interest for humankind. Our security, our economy, our very survival all require healthy ocean,” proposes the Marine Conservation Institute,  If you’d like to join in the fight to save the planet and its people by looking after one of its most vital resources, the master’s degree in coastal and marine management at the University Centre of the Westfjords may be the perfect fit.

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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