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Environmental Sustainability and Policy research

Environmental Sustainability and Policy

How can we both conserve ecosystems and grow our maritime economies? SEA Semester marine policy efforts address the reality that strong economies rely on a healthy environment, and thriving ecosystems require support by well-planned management structures and communities with both the resources and the will to protect. These human and natural systems rely on scientific understanding of marine processes and organisms and social scientists who can translate legal, policy-related, and scientific language, events and timescales. Ocean and coastal activities bring users into close proximity and competition; with increasing frequency, groups plan to avoid conflicts in ocean places rather than wait for disputes to arise. Marine spatial planning, mandated by US federal policy from 2010 until June 2018, provides a way to understand, anticipate and defuse arguments about resource harvest, energy, transport, trade, pollution, recreation and other uses.

Research Themes

Sea Education Association Research

Coastal and ocean policy

SEA Semester students and faculty investigate coastal and ocean areas’ future ability to support human activities and healthy ecosystems by asking questions about wise resource use: Which marine habitats capture and store atmospheric carbon and thus need protection? How should we mitigate coastal pollution? What do island and coastal residents need to know about ocean acidification? How can we best use renewable power resources and technologies? Which fishing and food production methods work best for coastal communities? How can we optimize island fresh water and public health systems? Students work with planners and other experts to understand economic and stakeholder-designed strategies for adaptive, ecosystem-based coastal resource management and disaster preparedness.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Erin Bryant (SEA), Jeff Wescott (SEA), Matt McKenzie (UCONN), Porter Hoagland (WHOI)

Selected Coastal and Ocean Policy papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Marine spatial planning

Seeking to efficiently and sustainably manage our oceans and coasts, marine spatial planning is a process utilized to gather information and make decisions. First compiling insights into the geography, valued resources, and current stakeholder uses of a given location, planners then protect sensitive environmental characteristics to ensure resilient ecosystems while allowing compatible uses to share ocean space and avoid potential conflicts. SEA Semester students apply knowledge and skills from both marine and social sciences as they evaluate local and global case studies (i.e., Massachusetts Ocean Plan, Rhode Island's Ocean Special Area Management Plan, New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan). Students also work with leaders in ecosystem-based Marine Protected Area (MPA) development to design, conduct and communicate voyage-specific research projects.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Erin Bryant (SEA), Matt McKenzie (UCONN)

Selected Marine spacial planning papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA)

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is an equatorial Pacific Marine Protected Area (MPA) established in 2008 by the Republic of Kiribati. SEA Semester faculty researchers, collaborators and students study and visit this remote and largely uninhabited oceanic coral archipelago, the world’s largest – and deepest – UNESCO World Heritage Site, to engage first-hand with island caretakers and stakeholders while gathering baseline scientific data that informs ongoing planning. In doing so, they explore and augment the ways in which the government of Kiribati and non-governmental organizations, such as Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, are applying the PIPA Management Plan to ensure its protection.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Jan Witting (SEA), Jeff Wescott (SEA), Randi Rotjan (Boston University)

Selected Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Sargasso Sea management plan

The Sargasso Sea Commission, an international collaborative body, aims to secure protective measures for this globally unique large marine ecosystem at the center of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity and Conservation students support the Commission’s stewardship role by contributing scientific findings and policy analysis, and also participate in the marine spatial planning process by developing an array of management strategies for the region.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Kerry Whittaker (SEA), Porter Hoagland (WHOI)

Selected Sargasso Sea management plan papers and publications

Papers and Publications

Peer-reviewed publications

Irwin, E. G., P. J. Culligan, M. Fischer-Kowalski, K. L. Law*, R. Murtugudde and S. Pfirman, 2018. Bridging barriers to advance global sustainability. Nat. Sustain. 1, 324-326.

doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0085-1

Selected student research

SEA Class C259, 2015. A Marine Management Proposal for the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student policy paper, Class C-259, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Chomiak, L., T. Greenwood, M. Hemler, C. Mazur and M. Thompson, 2015. Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-258, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Bunge, A., S. Davis, M. Henning and M. Torselli, 2015. Consequences of Sea Level Rise in the Republic of Kiribati and New Orleans, Louisiana: A Policy Brief and Case Study Comparison. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-258, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Davis, A., N. Harbordt and S. Nadell, 2015. Freshwater Availability and Precipitation in Pacific Islands. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-258, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Lefanowicz, M. and N. Kaufman, 2015. The Maori Foreshore-Seabed Debate. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-257, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Adair, J., K. St. Pierre and S. Valente-Blough, 2015. A Marine Sanctuary in the Ross Sea. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-257, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Piekarz, H., K. Reinhart and N. Whittaker, 2014. Examining the Problems with Marine Area Management in New Zealand. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-256, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Block, B., S. Sokolowski and V. St. Onge, 2014. An Analysis of Existing Marine Protected Areas Surrounding the Island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean. Unpublished student policy paper, Class C-255, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Feely, C., E. Marks and S. Vissa, 2014. PIPA Management Plan: Ecotourism. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-254, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Groskreutz, M., 2014. PIPA Management Plan: Climate Change Adaptation. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-254, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Ruditsky, A., P. Willauer and D. Livingstone, 2014. PIPA Management Plan: Enforcement. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-254, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Futerman, A., 2014. PIPA Management Plan: Sustainable Fisheries. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-254, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

SEA Class C252, 2014. Conservation in the Sargasso Sea Under the Hamilton Declaration. Unpublished student policy paper, Class C-252, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Pollock, S. and C. Puleo, 2014. Renewable Energy and OTEC in French Polynesia. SPICE Atlas student research paper, Class S-252, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Holzinger, C., K.Lyon, M. McGee and A. Stryker, 2013. Beyond the Horizon: Policy for Oil Blowouts After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Unpublished student policy paper, Class S-246, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.


Siuda, A.*, J. Jensen* and C. McClennen^, 2013. Cross-training undergraduate scientists in practical conservation: integrating science and policy skills in a problem-based curriculum. 26th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Baltimore, MD.

Jensen, J.*, A. Siuda*, J. McDonald, C. McClennen^, L. Amaral-Zettler and E. Zettler*, 2013. SEA Semester Marine Biodiversity and Conservation: improving stewardship capacities through field-based undergraduate education. George Wright Society Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas and Cultural Sites, Denver, CO.


Laffoley, D. d'A, H. Roe, M. Angel, J. Ardron, N. Bates, I. Boyd, S. Brooke, K. Buck, C. Carlson, B. Causey, M. Conte, S. Christiansen, J. Cleary, J. Donnelly, S. Earle, R. Edwards, K. Gjerde, S. Giovannoni, S. Gulick, M. Gollock, J. Hallett, P. Halpin, R. Hanel, A. Hemphill, R. Johnson, A. Knap, M. Lomas, S. McKenna, M. Miller, P. Miller, F. Ming, R. Moffitt, N. Nelson, L. Parson, A. Peters, J. Pitt, P. Rouja, J. Roberts, J. Roberts, D. Seigel, A. Siuda*, D. Steinberg, A. Stevenson, V. Sumaila, W. Swartz, S. Thorrold, T. Trott and V. Vats, 2011. The protection and management of the Sargasso Sea: The golden floating rainforest of the Atlantic Ocean. Summary Science and Supporting Evidence Case. Sargasso Sea Alliance, 44 pp.

The Nature Conservancy, 2007. Exploring a New Strategy for Marine Protection: An analysis of laws, policies, and practices related to private conservation of tidelands in Massachusetts. Boston, MA. 28 pp. (E. J. Bryant*, co-author)

Bryant, E. J.* and K. M. Fletcher, 2006. Exploring a new strategy for marine protection: Private conservation of tidelands in Massachusetts. Ocean and Coastal Law Journal 12.

* SEA faculty and staff
^ SEA Semester alumnus


The Global Ocean

Marine Spatial Planning Update

Posted on: December 14, 2017
By: S-276 Conservation and Management Class

As ocean resources gain value to various different groups, a variety of stakeholders are vying for access and control of these ocean goods. Interested stakeholders range from fisherman to recreational users, conservationists, and industries such as shipping and oil acquisition. As the limited oceanic space becomes congested with these different interests, comprehensive planning is needed in order for them to co-exist safely across the marine environment.

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Snorkeling is school, right?

Posted on: October 05, 2017
By: Amy Green, C Watch, Boston University

Today was our first full day in Tonga! We spent the night tied up at the harbor in Neiafu after getting a chance to explore the town. Students stood hour long watches throughout the night, which was our first ‘opportunity’ to monitor the ship without the supervision of the staff. A.K.A the staff finally got a full night’s sleep.

This morning we were able to sleep in!

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Marine Biodiversity & Conservation

Science and Policy Meet in Bermuda

Posted on: May 14, 2017
By: Mark Howard Long, Ph. D., Associate Professor, History & Social Science

Dear loyal readers,

After almost a week of field trips in Bermuda we are now making our way home. One of the aspects of teaching at SEA Semester that I find most rewarding is the way that we routinely examine the intersections between history, policy, science and exploration, all in an inter-/multi- disciplinary setting. Our time in Bermuda this week was spent investigating how all of these threads come together in this unique part of the world.

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SEA Semester

PIPA student profiled in Brown University’s “News from Brown”

Posted on: August 18, 2016

SEA Semester in the News
In summer at sea, adventurous student continues a personal academic journey
By David Orenstein

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Peter Baek traces his inspiration as a scientist, pre-med student and explorer to a beloved movie.

“Ever since watching ‘Finding Nemo’ with my grandpa and dad, our love for fish and the ocean blossomed as every shelf around the house became occupied with aquariums,” said Baek, a rising sophomore at Brown University. “My fascination with fish ultimately led to my interest in science as I continued to get deeper into the water chemistry and biology of fish keeping. The passing of my grandpa from laryngeal cancer, however, transformed my interest of science to something deeper — the desire to pursue a career in oncology in dedication to my grandpa.”

Read the full story.

SEA Semester

SEA Semester students find signs of hope in remote Phoenix Islands

Posted on: August 16, 2016
By: Doug Karlson,

We like to say SEA Semester students adventure with a purpose.  Nowhere is that more true than on our recent expedition aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans to the rarely visited Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), in the island nation of Kiribati. 

SEA Semester students, crew and scientists, led by SEA Professor of Oceanography Dr. Jan Witting, together with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the New England Aquarium, sailed 1,600 miles across the Equatorial Pacific from Honolulu to reach the remote archipelago, one of the last coral wildernesses in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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