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University of Rhode Island — Marine Affairs
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The Field
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.