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Public Interest and Policy
(Select a different Marine Affairs career)

What are Public Interest and Policy careers?

Public interest and policy jobs are typically held within the government, non-profit, and sometimes private sectors. Many facets of the government are focused on creating new policies or revising and maintaining existing policies. Non-profits may be formed around a specific public interest campaign and work to influence policies and public opinion. In the private sector, consulting firms often have policy analysts whose knowledge of local, state, and federal policies informs the actions that the firms take.

Policy positions focus on how government decisions are made regarding the management and use of marine resources at the federal, state, and/or local level. Since good policies depend on accurate scientific information, marine science and marine policy intertwine. Marine policy specialists analyze public issues relating to the Law of the Sea, ports and shipping, marine minerals, ocean and coastal zone management, fisheries and aquaculture, naval affairs, marine biotechnology, ocean energy resources and many other areas - frequently making recommendations for policy at the regional, national and international level. Their job is to analyze the implications of development, conflicting uses and interrelationships between physical processes (such as sea-level rise and human activities).

Public interest positions may focus on public education, efforts to influence existing or pending policy, or efforts to influence public opinion. There is often overlap between public interest and policy positions; they may be one and the same or may be working on the same projects. Thus, those working in public interest fields must understand the relationship of science and policy and be able to communicate with the public. These positions vary widely, and may focus on things such as clean water, maintaining healthy coastal ecosystems, encouraging responsible recreational use of our waterways, supporting or opposing offshore drilling, or raising awareness about being a responsible seafood consumer.

This type of job involves a great deal of writing and communicating. Politics plays a major role in the process. In order to do this job effectively, a person needs to enjoy working with people, be passionate about the issues, and be able to present information in such a way that the general public is able to understand it. The job is likely to involve:

  • a great deal of research on issues;
  • gathering facts and working with scientists and other specialists to compile data;
  • using data to determine the effectiveness of existing policies;
  • using data to determine exactly what a policy should do and how it should do it; and/or
  • effective communication to the general public or the group that you are trying to reach or serve.

A government position may be at the local, state, or federal level. At the local level, a person with a background in marine affairs may be interested in working in emergency management or planning departments. (Visit the Career Profiles page to read about the director of planning in North Kingstown, RI., a URI Marine Affairs alum.) At the state level, many states have coastal and marine resource agencies that are responsible for creating and enforcing coastal zone management policies, such as the Coastal Resources Management Council in Rhode Island or the Department of Marine Resources in Maine. State environmental agencies also often have a role in coastal zone management. At the federal level, marine affairs-related policies are influenced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, both houses of Congress, and others.


Many non-profits have developed in the marine affairs field based on an interest in influencing public policy and public opinion. Some examples of the goals and names of these non-profits:

Nearly all of these organizations are based on a specific public interest, and have policy and public education positions.

Consulting Firms

Consulting firms specialize in many fields. Those that specialize in environmental management and research, as well as engineering, are likely to need employees with marine affairs backgrounds. These firms need to know the policies at the federal, state, and local levels that will affect their work. Consulting firms are often responsible for dealing with Environmental Impact Statements and maintaining compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Engineering firms often pursue coastal engineering, where it is important that they are aware of the policies regarding what structures may legally be constructed in certain states and the rules involved in those. Research firms may be hired by government agencies or other entities to study the results and implications of existing policies, or to gather information for new policies or public opinions. These groups could do research in various fields, including fisheries, coastal infrastructure, offshore oil development, and many more.

See the Private Consultant page for more information on consulting firms, and the Career Resources page for a list of firms that have marine affairs positions.