How Geography Finds a Place in Marine Science and Technology


The oceans and seas have been the inspiration first for geographical exploration, from the days of Christopher Columbus onwards; and then for scientific exploration, especially since the famous oceanographic voyages of HMSChallenger in the 1870s.

In the 1970s and 1980s, attention was sharply focused on the world ocean through negotiations for the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention concluded in 1982. Although by the mid 1990s there were still some nations which had not signed up to the convention, the extension of coastal state jurisdiction over continental shelves and exclusive economic zones out to 200 nautical miles gave many states a strong measure of control and responsibility for over 40 percent of the ocean.

The promise and problems of ocean resource development and management have never been greater. For example, the advent of the offshore oil industry has lead to continuing development of advanced underwater technology, providing numerous spin–offs for other uses. Satellites and modern research vessels are used for large–scale deep ocean exploration and scientific purposes and in resource exploitation. But there are formidable problems of environmental and resource management, including over–fishing, waste disposal and pollution control. One of the fastest growing sectors is marine recreation, which demands high amenity value and further accentuates the need for conservation. Thus there is a wide variety of opportunities in the development and management of the oceans and seas – opportunities in industry, government and with voluntary organisations.


For geographers, the majority of marine science and technology related jobs are in the field of coastal zone management and marine resource management. Port and harbour management, the transport and commerce industries, government departments, local government and the education sector all employ geographers. Usually applied science –climate change research, investigating the impact of pollutants, or estimating fishing quotas – will be done by graduates in subjects such as mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry, but geographers are often in a position to collate the results of these scientists and turn them into workable policies. In this sense, geographers can often find a niche in marine resource and coastal zone management by virtue of their ability to form an ‘overview’ of the situation, but without a grounding in science, the geographer may not be able to understand the significance of the data under consideration, so employers are bound to look closely at the potential recruit’s overall education.

Increasingly, nations are adopting “Marine Spatial Planning” (MSP) which is a good area of recruitment for geographers

Several tasks are included under the environmental management heading including:

  • economic evaluation of resources carried out by companies and government departments
  • the assessment of physical and economic risk, e.g. in coast protection schemes
  • environment impact assessment associated with major industrial installations, such as offshore production platforms, coastal tanker terminals and dredging operations
  • dealing with legal jurisdiction and surveying of maritime boundaries, such as those between states and fishing limits
  • dealing with social and economic impact, e.g. employment, of offshore industries, such as oil and fishing
  • resolving conflicts among sea users generated by competing uses in congested areas adjacent to ports or busy shipping lanes and fishing grounds


The most useful GCSE or Standard Grade (Scotland) qualifications are in science subjects, e.g. biology and chemistry, mathematics, computer studies, economics, geography and navigation, and foreign languages may also help. At A–level and Higher level (Scotland), combinations of these same subjects are useful both for entry into further and higher education, and for obtaining marine related jobs in ports, shipping offices or fishery offices.

In further and higher education there are wide varieties of maritime studies courses, most of which are multidisciplinary, but with specific specialisations available, for example, in geography, economics, transport and technology, all providing a basis for management oriented careers in a variety of fields in industry and government.

At postgraduate level most courses are focused on specific industries such as ports and shipping, fisheries and fish farming, and petroleum geology; or on scientific and environmental management aspects, including marine law and policy, environmental protection, oceanography, marine biology, geophysics, hydrographic surveying and marine archaeology.

For further information contact:

Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore
London SW7 2AR
t 020 7591 3090
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
12 Great George Street
Parliament Square
London SW1P 3AD
t 020 7222 7000
Manager Professional Affairs
The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology
1 Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London SW1H 9JJ
t 020 7382 2600
Marine Management Organisation
PO Box 1275
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE99 5BN
t 0191 376 2543
Marine Scotland
St Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG
t (General) 0131 556 8400