Coastal Science and Policy M.S.


Students in the University of California, Santa Cruz's Coastal Science and Policy Program (CSP) will develop a range of skills, interdisciplinary knowledge, and pragmatic approaches to become more effective leaders at solving coastal sustainability challenges, from watersheds to the open ocean. We offer in-depth interaction with faculty members, professionals and practitioners for small cohorts of diverse students hailing from California, additional U.S. states and other nations. In year one of the two-year master's degree program, students take courses on concepts and approaches from the natural and social sciences,  including biophysical, ecological, social, economic, policy, leadership, and communication dimensions. The first year also entails a guided, strategic process for each student to develop their second-year capstone project and to identify capstone partner organizations from the non-governmental, government or private sectors. Students additionally participate in workshops to strengthen communication, technical, and leadership skills and in seminars with diverse leaders to build their professional networks. In the second year, each student embeds with their selected partner organization to conduct the solutions-focused capstone project and participates weekly in a video-link capstone seminar. Students also use a summer placement (between years one and two) to gain training in specific skills or to start the capstone project. At the end of the second year, students present their capstone deliverables in writing and via an oral public presentation. With the combination of focused courses, skill set development, and practical experience, graduates will be well prepared and highly competitive for the diverse job opportunities in the growing fields of coastal science and policy. Although the focus of most material will be coastal or marine, the principles and practices learned by the students will be applicable in any geographical location or sector.

The program will focus on practical training to provide integrated solutions to social and ecological challenges via three interconnected nodes that leverage UCSC’s existing leadership in coastal sustainability:

  • Conserving biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and human well-being,
  • Mitigating hazards to nature and society and fostering societal adaptation, and
  • Maintaining security of marine, terrestrial, and freshwater food, water, and energy systems.

Preparation for Graduate Work in Coastal Science and Policy

Students admitted to the Master of Science (M.S.) in Coastal Science and Policy Program will have completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university in a field relevant to coastal sustainability. Relevant fields are diverse and include the natural sciences (e.g., biology, earth sciences, chemistry, oceanography), social sciences (e.g., economics or business, human ecology, political science, sociology), interdisciplinary programs (e.g., environmental studies and sciences) and engineering. Specific additional requirements prior to admission, regardless of undergraduate major and/or minors, include at least one course each in writing and statistics; as well as, at least one course each in at least two of three emphasis areas: biological sciences, physical sciences, and the social sciences, including policy and economics. We anticipate that competitive applicants to the program will have additional experience, such as a combination of coursework, internships, jobs and research, in the environmental field.


Course Requirements

The master's degree in coastal science and policy is a Plan II (capstone project) degree.

Core Courses

The M.S. program will include a core set of three foundational and eight developmental courses.

Foundational Courses
CSP 200Natural Sciences for Coastal Sustainability


CSP 210Social Sciences for Coastal Sustainability


CSP 220Economics for Coastal Sustainability


Developmental Courses

These courses cut across multiple disciplines and will be taught by core faculty, partner practitioner-scientists, and specialist trainers.

CSP 230Integrated Problem-Based Discussion


CSP 231ACSP Year 1 Capstone Planning & Design Fall


CSP 231BCSP Year 1 Capstone Planning & Design Winter


BIOE 286
/CSP 241
Experimental Design and Data Analysis


ENVS 240
/CSP 242
Public Policy and Conservation


ENVS 250
/CSP 243
Coastal Governance


CSP 244Adaptation and Planning


BIOE 262
/CSP 245
Facilitating Change in Coastal Science Policy


The core sequence serves many objectives, including creating and maintaining a strong program community, teaching core skills and topics, preparing for and building on the summer placement experience, linking new and returning students, and generating a lively, ongoing set of intellectual conversations to explore, define, and pursue transformative contributions to conservation and sustainability science. In order to assure a strong interdisciplinary approach, courses will be taught by natural and social science faculty. In addition, all coursework will strengthen practical knowledge and solution-based thinking. 

Elective Course

M.S. students will also take one additional elective course their first year. The elective will be drawn from courses currently offered across the UCSC campus. The selection of an elective course will be made in consultation with the student’s faculty adviser and program staff, with the goal of broadening the student’s disciplinary knowledge. For example, incoming students with an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences (e.g., ecology) may be expected to take a graduate social sciences course (e.g., politics, economics).

Other Requirements

Summer Placement

During the summer at the end of their first year, M.S. students will be required to participate in an intensive summer placement program. Students may use the summer placement to gain training in specific skills or to start the capstone project.  This placement will consist of working within a partner agency, nongovernmental organization, or industry to provide trainees with practical awareness in the conservation and sustainability science field and give them firsthand immersion in the processes involved in implementing scientific knowledge and innovations as components of solutions to the complex challenge of domestic or international coastal sustainability. Placement projects will be required to include: 1) a real concern of the institutional partner, 2) research, solutions development, and implementation, and 3) strong interdisciplinary elements. A faculty adviser will oversee the placement. It is the intention that, in collaboration with institutional partners and CSP advisers, students’ capstone projects will emerge from, or be heavily informed by this summer placement experience.

Capstone Project

In the second year, students will develop and implement a capstone project by enrolling in and fulfilling the requirements for CSP 290, Coastal Science and Policy Capstone Project (10 credits/quarter). This project will be developed in collaboration with institutional partners and CSP faculty and is intended to: a) address a real concern of the institutional partner, and b) include research, solutions development, and implementation, and be strongly interdisciplinary in nature. A program team consisting of the student’s CSP faculty adviser, program administrator and adviser, and practitioner partner will advise on the capstone project. In the final quarter (spring, year 2) students will provide a written report and oral presentation of the capstone project to CSP students, faculty and institutional partners. The final presentations will be required to address both the socio-economic and natural science elements of the selected project.

CSP 290ACoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


CSP 290BCoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


CSP 290CCoastal Science and Policy Capstone Project


Capstone Project Seminar

Each quarter of the second year, students will enroll in CSP 291, Coastal Science and Policy Capstone Seminar (2 credits/quarter). This seminar will serve as a forum, led by an interdisciplinary team of social/natural science faculty, for students to discuss current topics and approaches in sustainability science as well as an opportunity for students to present issues, topics, and proposals relevant to their capstone projects. Students enrolled in this course will provide oral and written peer review of other students’ projects and presentations.


  Fall Winter Spring
1st Year CSP 200 BIOE 286 & BIOE 286L (7 credits) CSP 244
CSP 210 ENVS 240 BIOE 262
CSP 220 ENVS 250 Elective
CSP 230 CSP 231B  
CSP 231A    
2nd Year CSP 290A (10 credits) CSP 290B (10 credits) CSP 290C (10 credits)
CSP 291 (2 credits) CSP 291 (2 credits) CSP 291 (2 credits)