Tractors on a beach

Coastal Science

The Sustainable Use of Resources and Conservation of Biodiversity

Coastal environments contain a wealth of biodiversity and economic opportunity. Due to the interaction of terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric processes, they are one of the most complex environments on the planet.[1] Coastal environments are also home to approximately forty percent of the world’s people. It is here that “dense human populations, valuable economic activities, dynamic physical environments, and high ecological diversity converge, creating complex and increasingly vulnerable ecological and socially coupled systems.”[2] A healthy coastal zone is crucial to marine and terrestrial ecosystems, human health and well-being, and the economy.

Coastal ecosystems are at the interface between marine and terrestrial habitats and are exposed to a wide variety of human and natural stressors. They are the transition zone between the open ocean and terrestrial watersheds, with important and disparate spatial and temporal scales occurring in the physical as well as biogeochemical processes. Coastal oceans have three major components, the estuarine and nearshore areas, the continental shelf, and the continental slope. The offshore extent of coastal environments can range from a few kilometers to hundreds of kilometers. The topography in coastal oceans can be relatively featureless, or it can be complex and include river deltas, canyons, submerged banks, and sand ridges.[3]

Coastlines and coastal oceans span the globe, from near the North Pole to the Antarctic, and thus are subject to a full range of climatic conditions. Circulation in coastal regions is forced locally (e.g., by winds, freshwater discharges, formation of ice) or remotely (through interactions with the neighboring deep ocean, terrestrial watersheds, or large-scale atmospheric disturbances). Resulting motions include tides, waves, mean currents, jets, plumes, eddies, fronts, instabilities, and mixing events. Vertical and horizontal spatial scales of motion range from centimeters to hundreds of kilometers, and timescales range from seconds to interannual and longer.[4] Coastal regions can be very productive biologically, and they support the world’s largest fisheries. These regions are also preferred as recreational and dwelling sites for our increasing human population.

Practical and effective solutions to challenges in coastal systems are badly needed, especially in a changing global environment. Coastal scientists advance the sustainable use of coastal resources and conservation of coastal biodiversity, ecosystems, socio-economic integrity, and ecological services.[5] Coastal scientists also tackle environmental challenges such as shifting coastal resources, global environmental change, and sea level rise.



  1. MacLusky, D. S., Wolanski, E., & J., K. M. (2012). Treatise on estuarine and coastal science. Elsevier/Academic Press.
  2. Coastal Science and Policy, UC Santa Cruz.
  3. Technology, Instrumentation, Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences (2019).
  4. Technology, Instrumentation, Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences (2019).
  5. Coastal Science and Policy, UC Santa Cruz.
The path to becoming a coastal scientist

The Path to Becoming a Coastal Scientist

From High School to Your First Job

Build a Solid Academic Foundation


Take all available STEM-related courses (chemistry, biology, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus) offered at your high school. Take all these classes, at the most advanced level possible (honors, AP). This will help you build your knowledge base in scientific theory and concepts.


If not available at your high school, try and take classes in the various component areas of coastal science – ecology, marine biology, oceanography, environmental chemistry, atmospheric science, geology and soil science – offered online. Also, try and take a course in environmental or land-use policy.

Keep in Mind:

Gain lab work experience through a research internship. Learn how to write for a scientific and non-scientific audience. The ability to communicate in writing cannot be overstated. Given the international nature of scientific collaboration, become fluent in a foreign language. Be a voracious reader.

Dive In!

And become an expert

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Peruse our library of must-read books

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Take an online course

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Get a

jump on your Academic career

There’s no substitute for experience.

We have compiled a database of thousands of internships, research opportunities, academic programs and specialized training programs so you can get a jump on your academic career.

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Academic Training Programs

And if you need support to fulfill your dreams and ambitions, our searchable database has plenty of scholarship opportunities as well as programs designed to increase diversity in the sciences.


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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Need Help Finding Your Opportunity?

Our video tutorials explain the ins and outs of landing a great internship, research project or training program.


Make all the right moves

Advice from those who know

Review current literature to stay abreast of industry and scientific advancements

Attend professional conferences and coastal science seminars

Present your research at student research colloquiums

Build experience through internships or as an undergraduate researcher

Have some work experience on your resume

Obtain lab experience and become familiar with lab instrumentation

Gain fieldwork experience

Join professional societies and organizations

Stay current by reading professional and scientific journals

What degree is right for you?

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Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level jobs, but advancement will be limited. Depending on what route you want to take, you should obtain a degree in coastal science or one of its many component sciences (chemistry, biology, ecology, oceanography, earth science, atmospheric science). Familiarity with computer modeling, field survey techniques and scientific instrumentation is essential.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is recommended as this is where you will be able to begin to specialize your studies in coastal science. A master’s degree will open up more opportunities with both federal and state government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, as well as with various companies in the private sector. In a master’s program you will learn the theory and the practice of coastal science in addition to having the opportunity to engage in fieldwork.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree and typically post-doctoral studies is generally required if you want to have a career in academia. Specialization in marine and estuarine sciences coupled with courses that span ecological and environmental science as a whole, will be beneficial to your career. Senior research positions with federal and state government agencies senior project manager positions with private firms, and high-level positions with nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations may require a doctoral degree.

10 Schools With Excellent Coastal Science Programs

Want to see the full list of colleges and universities with degree offerings or relevant courses?

See the full list

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Coastal & Marine Science
Sacred Heart University

Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences
Montclair State University

Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers
The State University of New Jersey

Coastal Environmental Science
Louisiana State University

Marine & Coastal Science
Western Washington University

Marine and Coastal Management
University of Maryland

Tip 1

Given the interdisciplinary nature of coastal science, you can still pursue a career in the field even if your school does not have a coastal science major. You can major in geology, biology, chemistry, oceanography, engineering or ecology.

Tip 2

As soon as possible get out in the field to gain some real-world experience and perspective. There are hundreds of internships and research opportunities available to college students interested in the ocean sciences.

Tip 3

Do not just consider a school’s undergraduate offerings. Even if a school does not offer specific coastal science classes at the undergraduate level, you may eventually be able to take such classes at the graduate level.

Have familiarity with one or more of the following areas

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Aquaculture development

Coastal restoration icon

Coastal restoration

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Coral reefs icon

Coral reefs

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Wind energy

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Data collection and analysis

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Climate change

Habitat modeling icon

Habitat modeling

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Coastal and marine planning

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Tide and wave hydrodynamics

Typical Job Functions of a Coastal Scientist

Here are some of the interesting things you could be doing.

Employing a systems-based scientific approach to understanding and interpreting coastal processes.

Collecting, processing, and reporting of sediment samples.

Coordinating watershed floodplain management.

Assisting with hydrographic and geophysical surveys, data collection and processing.

Assisting with coastal, estuarine, oceanographic, and meteorological observational programs.

Assisting with the preparation of permits and regulatory documents.

Performing literature reviews and background research for new project areas.

Performing shoreline change analysis.

Collaborating with federal and state agencies.

Creating, reviewing, and approving technical scientific/environmental reports.

There’s an Ocean of Possibilities

As a coastal scientist, you can observe, measure and experiment in coastal environments and habitats. You might find work constructing theories to explain what you see and measure in coastal environments. You may work in laboratories, or in the field – gathering and interpreting data and material which may be collected in a variety of ways, from the physical collection of data and specimens to the utilization of satellite data-gathering technology.  

Common employers include:

Federal Government Agencies

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Science Foundation
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

State Government Agencies

  • Environmental Protection
  • Fish and Wildlife


  • U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Coast Guard

Private Industry

  • Emerging Technology Companies
  • Environmental Consultancies
  • Fisheries Laboratories
  • Aquaculture Companies
  • Conservation Consultancies

Non-Governmental Organizations

  • Environmental Organizations
  • Conservation Organizations


  • Universities
  • Research Institutions

Start your career search with our extensive list of employment websites.