What is Marine and Coastal Science?

The Marine and Coastal Science (MACS) degree program is a new cohort-based, interdisciplinary, experiential program that gives participants opportunities to engage in coastal and marine-focused research. Active learning experiences help students develop into confident, thoughtful, ethical scientists who are ready to address the growing challenges affecting marine and coastal environments.

Marine and Coastal Science Degree(s)

Marine and Coastal Science, BS

Degree Type: Interdisciplinary

Marine and Coastal Science is a joint program of the Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC), and the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and Environmental Sciences. We are advancing the state of knowledge about the oceans, coasts, and their ecosystems for the scientific community and for the communities we call home.


For General Inquiries,
macs@wwu.edu |

For Prospective Students,
macsadvising@wwu.edu |

Marine and Coastal Science at Western

Each year, a new cohort of students engages in hands-on research and learning experiences in and around the Salish Sea, with opportunities for focused, residential study at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC) in Anacortes, about an hour from the main campus.

To us, beyond the classroom means extending our focus beyond the university to the people and communities whose existences are intertwined with coastal systems and resources. 

Students in the Marine and Coastal Science program:

Study Marine and Coastal Science Across Disciplines

The new MACS major is a partnership between four academic departments (Biology, Geology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences) and Shannon Point Marine Center. You will have a unique opportunity to study marine science in an environment of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Learn, Work, and Thrive Together

You will study marine science with a cohort group, beginning with a research experience in your second year, continuing through a 3rd year core series, and culminating with a capstone project in your final year.

Gain Research Experience

You will have opportunities to engage in mentored, hands-on research in your sophomore year through immersive study at the Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, Washington.

Obtain Access to Marine Labs & Research Vessels

You will spend time in the field, on oceanographic vessels, and in learning laboratories. You will engage deeply in marine research and focused study of the Salish Sea.

Explore Courses

MACS 210 - Introduction to Marine and Coastal Science Research

MACS 301 - Marine Physical Processes

MACS 302 - Marine Geological Processes

MACS 303 - Marine Ecological Processes

MACS 310 - Marine Science and Society

MACS 493 - Advanced Marine and Coastal Science Research

Student research

Western’s location on the shores of the Salish Sea provides great opportunities for students to really get their feet wet (we do have boots you can borrow, though, if you prefer dry feet). You can begin your time at Western with an intensive one-week residential program (the Marine Science Distinguished Scholars Program) at Shannon Point Marine Center where you will be introduced to marine science research and start building the learning community that will support you through your time at WWU. New MACS majors who are not Marine Science Scholars will get a similar research experience at Shannon Point Marine Center over Spring Break when they first enter the major. Once in the program, MACS students are exposed to a range of research opportunities in the classroom, in faculty labs, and during their capstone project.

Outside of the Shannon Point Marine Center. The building is modern and features glass and exposed concrete.
Students examining a bright red starfish at the Shannon Point Marine Center.
Spencer Johnson with research equipment packing up a kayak.

Spencer Johnson

As a Western student, Spencer has been involved in a number of research projects, including modeling benthic carbon transport and studying fish community armoring. He also did a summer program at UCBS studying the effects of kelp on ocean acidification, and interned for two summers at the Nisqually Ranch Nature Center near Olympia. Spencer is also a 2019–2021 NOAA Hollings Scholar. He hopes to continue using science to address the world's pressing issues.

2017 Marine Science Scholar
Hometown: Olympia, WA

Marine science concepts are generally illustrated through examples from local systems, or through case studies from our regional seas, bringing the oceans and coasts into the classroom.  Students delve into the concepts they are learning through sampling trips aboard our research vessels, or in the extensive coastal and intertidal areas accessible near the campus and the marine lab.  Students collect, analyze, and interpret real data A capstone research experience allows them to apply their learning to real-world issues.  

Beyond the classroom

To us, beyond the classroom means extending our focus beyond the university to the people and communities whose existences are intertwined with coastal systems and resources. In this place-based approach, scientists work to understand the whole context of an issue, including the lands, waters, ecosystems, and human systems. Workable solutions require problem solvers to understand a diversity of viewpoints. To this end, the program is built to bring forward many voices, and to encourage the participation and success of students from all backgrounds. We work with local communities, nonprofits, agencies, governments, and other institutions to build knowledge and understanding of marine systems, and collaboratively build tools to address problems. Students engage actively in these efforts through class projects, independent research experiences, internships, and partnerships.

Darby in the lab doing an experiment.

Darby Finnegan

Darby was Western's first Barry Goldwater Scholar since 2007. She participated in numerous research projects while at Western, including the effects of ocean acidification on eelgrass, the effects of high temperature and low pH on Olympia oysters, and the swimming mechanics of rainbow trout. As a 2020 Fulbright Scholar, she'll work in Stockholm, Sweden, studying schooling mechanics in silversides. After that, she will head to graduate school at Western Michigan University to study fish ecology and evolution.

2016 Marine Science Scholars Program
Hometown: Grangeville, ID

What can you do with Marine and Coastal Sciences?

A 4-year degree in Marine and Coastal Sciences opens the door to many entry-level positions in the marine sciences. In 2018, NOAA reported that the U.S. ocean economy, also known as the "blue economy", grew faster than the economy overall, providing many opportunities for employment. Marine scientists find jobs across a wide swath of society, including all levels of government, academia, and a diversity of private sector companies and organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7% growth of life and physical science occupations from 2018-2028, which is higher than the average growth for all occupations.

Graduates from the Marine and Coastal Science program may choose to pursue graduate education. A graduate degree will be necessary for positions that are heavily research-focused (higher-level researcher, manager, college/university educator). Students in these graduate programs are generally funded by the university or program during the time they are pursuing their degree.

Marine and Coastal Sciences Careers

  • Hatchery Specialists
  • Surveying Assistant
  • Biological Science Technician
  • Geo Visual Data Specialist
  • Field Technician
  • Fisheries Biologist
  • Data Analyst
  • Nearshore Biologist

Possible Employers

  • WA State Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Bellingham Natural Resources Department
  • University of Oregon
  • Google
  • Coastal and Geologic Services
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • NOAA Fisheries
  • Seattle Aquarium

Start Your Career at Western