Marine Institute education

The MSc/MRes in Applied Marine Science provides a multidisciplinary training to prepare you for a career in marine science. We will consider graduates from a range of backgrounds but are primarily focused on those with a first degree in science or engineering. Whilst applicants sometimes have a background in marine science this is not a pre-requisite and often students choose this programme seeking a new career direction in the marine science area. The MSc and MRes Applied Marine Science programmes provide scientific knowledge of the marine environment and the pressures placed on it. You'll develop the skills required to assimilate knowledge over a wide range of disciplines and apply them to marine environmental assessment and management.

These well-established programmes are taught in conjunction with Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The MSc has run successfully since 1991 and the MRes since 2000. The programmes address important issues that have global environmental and societal impact. These include global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, the increased incidence of storms, coastal defence/flooding, pollution and the sustainable management of marine systems.

These programmes produce graduates with the skills required to assimilate knowledge over many disciplines and apply it to environmental analyses. The programmes are highly regarded by the marine sector and employment opportunities are excellent (e.g. the Environment Agency, English Nature, NGOs, coastal zone management, commercial consultancies and hydrographic survey). On completion of the programmes, around one third of graduates choose to study for a PhD.

Dissertation topics are wide ranging, for example, studies of ocean acidification, rip current dynamics, the impact of contaminants in marine waters and the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins.

Attractive programme features:

  • Plymouth has a long association with marine science, which is reflected in the many marine organisations based in the city such as the Marine Biological Association, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science and the National Marine Aquarium. The University has a memorandum of understanding with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and close links with other marine organisations. Many of our students have taken advantage of this and carried out their dissertations in collaboration with these organisations. In addition, we have links to commercial consultancy companies, local councils and environmental organisations, which have provided both project ideas and supervision.
  • About half the candidates each year undertake their research dissertation in association with an external organisation.
  • There are various site visits to the local bays and estuaries, including a field week when you gain practical experience of working with complex instrumentation both in the laboratory and at sea.
  • These are long-established, well-respected programmes with an excellent overall rating. For example, the MSc Applied Marine Science was previously awarded up to six (the maximum) NERC advanced course studentships, before NERC withdrew these studentships nationally.
  • An extensive range of field/laboratory equipment, including the COaST laboratories, our research vessel RV Falcon Spirit and a new waterfront marine centre within walking distance.

Course structures (MSc and MRes)

All modules are rated at 20 credits with the exception of the project modules, which is worth 60 credits for MSc students, and 120 credits for MRes students. All students must attain a total of 180 credits to graduate with a master’s degree. Both the MSc and the MRes courses are 100 per cent coursework assessed (no formal examinations).

Semester 1 (15 weeks) is common to both the MSc and MRes and therefore facilitates change between the programmes in the second semester. All students will take three compulsory (12 week) modules in the first semester and will spend the last three weeks of the semester developing their master’s project. The aim of the first semester is to develop a broad knowledge of marine science and to develop essential masters-level research skills.

In semester 2 (15 weeks) the MSc and MRes courses diverge. MRes students continue working on their masters thesis and dedicate 100 per cent of their time on this until the end of the programme. MSc students spend the first 12 weeks of this semester studying one core module in contemporary issues In marine science and two out of five option modules. After completion of the option modules, MSc students will focus on their master’s project until the end of the course. The aim of this second semester is to provide a good knowledge of key issues in marine science and to develop specialist skills through both option module choices (MSc only) and project work.

Semester 1 (MSc and MRes):

1. Research skills and methods. The module aims to equip you with the practical skills and contextual framework for conducting high quality research. You're trained in generic research skills with an emphasis on the practical development of computing, communication, writing and oral presentation skills. The context of research (ethics, health and safety, funding, rules and controls, careers) is also included.

The module aims to give you a practical appreciation of the planning and management of a research project in the academic and industrial environment. You're equipped with the practical and theoretical skills required to carry out a major research project. In this module you'll analyse data that they have collected during practical work at sea in the marine science module, developing new computer programming skills. You'll identify with school and external research groups in formulating their project. The last three weeks of the semester 1 (after Christmas) will be devoted to developing project ideas and producing a 6-page project proposal.

2. Marine science. This module provides a broad introduction to oceanography including physical, chemical, biological and geological aspects of the subject and importantly the interrelationship of these different disciplines within a marine science context. It is designed to give science and engineering graduates a good foundation in marine science. The module provides an overview of the geological origins of shelf and coastal seas, their physical oceanographic processes, and the tools available to measure, monitor and model them. There is particular emphasis on methods of quantifying and predicting coastal conditions. The module introduces chemical concepts and their influence on the chemical composition of seawater and also describes and explains coastal ecosystems. Students use sampling techniques for the collection of seawater and sediments.

3. Management of coastal environments. This module introduces students to the process, method and framework, used to manage change in coastal and marine environments. It will focus on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and will emphasise the importance of collectively considering physical, ecological and socio-economic factors and processes involved in the management of coastal environments. It will illustrate the range of the management processes available using field-, lecture- and seminar-based case studies.

Semester 2 (MSc only):

1. Contemporary issues in marine science. This exciting new module utilises acknowledged experts in their research field to teach you about ‘hot topics’ in marine science. Whilst the content of this module will be dynamic and evolve to keep up with the latest development in marine science, current indicative content might include; climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification, developments in nanotechnology, marine biofuels and coral bleaching for example. The content of this module will stretch to corners of the marine science subject area including biological, chemical, physical and human aspects of the subject. The module will include guest lectures from core University staff as well as external invited speakers, prominent among these, staff from Plymouth Marine Laboratories.

2. Remote sensing and GIS. This module introduces the principles and techniques of remote sensing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and demonstrates their application in marine science. Lectures cover the spectral response of the water column, the gathering, processing and interpretation of satellite data and issues surrounding data availability and accuracy in GIS. You'll undertake hands-on processing of remotely sensed data and tutorials using GIS packages in specialist remote sensing and GIS laboratories.

3. Economics of the marine environment. Using an Ecological economics perspective this module aims to provide a critical overview of economic activities in the marine environment, their associated problems and potential economic solutions. The module will enable you to develop knowledge and understanding of how the marine environment and its resources can be valued in monetary and non-monetary terms, evaluate the use of economic tools and incentives in solving over-exploitation and misuse of the marine environment, and develop problem solving skills using a problem based learning approach.

4. Coastal erosion and protection. This module provides an understanding of nearshore hydrodynamics (breaking waves and currents), sediment transport and coastal evolution. Hard and soft engineering methods of coastal protection are covered, with an emphasis on how improved understanding of the natural processes can be used to improve coastal evolution models. You'll work in teams to carry out a large, case study, modelling exercise. These teams then present their work and obtain formative feedback before going on to complete detailed individual written reports to a professional standard.

5. Modelling marine processes. This module provides an introduction to modelling the marine environment. All kinds of marine models are considered including models for: ocean/continental shelf circulation and mixing, the dispersal of pollutants and marine ecosystems. The aim of this module is to make you effective users (not developers) of marine models. You'll be informed about the range of marine models that are available for a broad range of applications. The programme will demonstrate how models should be appropriately applied to practical problems with due consideration of any model limitations. You'll gain an understanding of when to use or when not to use models, and are able to suggest modelling strategies appropriate to particular situations. A particular focus is given in preparing model input data and critical analysis of model output.

6. Managing marine ecosystems. This module will discuss the characteristics of a range of marine ecosystems. It will explore the threats to which these ecosystems are exposed and consider the mechanisms available for their management and conservation. Using case studies, contemporary research, and practitioner input, the module will evaluate the key factors necessary to effectively manage marine ecosystems.

Example project titles and collaborations selected from one year:

  • Inter-annual variability of isopycnic constant in the western Black Sea (European Union Project with Proudman Oceanographic Laboratories).
  • Cryptobenthic fish interaction and behavioural responses towards health of coral reefs.
  • What is the state of Devon's coast? (Devon Maritime Forum).
  • Using individual photo identification data to examine the ranging patterns, distribution and abundance of bottlenose dolphins on the W. Coast of Ireland.
  • Habitat selection by lobsters. (Padstow Lobster Hatchery).
  • Stomach contents analysis and prey preference of Callionymus lyra in licensed dredged areas. (sponsored project from Marine Eco Surveys LMT)
  • Understanding the link between climatically induced variations in the physical marine environment and the rate of carbon sequestration in the Black Sea (European Union Research Project)
  • The effect of CO2 concentrations and elevated temperatures on invertebrate community density and structure. (Plymouth Marine Labs)
  • An investigation into the causes of a severe erosion event and failure of a coastal defence structure at Milford-on-sea. (Channel Coastal Observatory).
  • Developmental toxicity and genotoxicity of pollutants in Ciona intestinalis embryo-larvae.
  • The spatial distribution of Booster Biocide Dichlofluanid in surface waters. (Plymouth Marine Labs).
  • A Review of the ecological status and distribution of the "Ross Reef worm" within MEPF East Coast (Regional Environmental Characterisation) region. (CEFAS).
  • Coastal defence alternatives to mitigate hazardous climate change consequences in Khulna, Bangladesh.
  • Bioaccessibility of antifouling contaminants in the human gastro-intestinal tract.
  • Analysis of swashzone sediment dynamics on an individual swash time scale. (Natural Environmental Research Council Project).
  • Impact of titanium dioxoxide nanoparticle contamination on the genetic diversity of natural bacteria assemblages in estuarine sediments (Plymouth Marine Labs).