We strive to give students:

  • A scientifically rigorous understanding of coastal environments and processes at the global, national and local scales
  • A deep understanding of the human behaviors and policies that affect, and are affected by, coastal environments and processes.
  • Opportunities to understand and participate in the policymaking process
  • The knowledge and skills to apply quantitative and analytical methods of resource analysis
  • The communication and teamwork skills needed to thrive in professional work environments


With a dual emphasis on science and policy, the CEM program equips students to become scientifically informed professionals in fields such as coastal policy and management, research, and advocacy. The Duke University Marine Laboratory provides an ideal setting for the study of natural and social scientific phenomena in the coastal and marine environment. It also afford students ample opportunities to interact with coastal and marine constituencies and policymakers.  Students enjoy a small class size, a low faculty-student ratio and access to world-class marine research facilities.


Our broad curriculum allows students to pursue concentrations in many focal areas, including:

  • Marine Ecology
  • Marine Social Science and Policy
  • Management of Protected Species and Critical Habitats
  • Marine Spatial Planning & Coastal Zone Management
  • Marine Geospatial Analysis & Remote Sensing (View certificate option)
  • Community Based Management (View certificate option)
  • Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Ocean Health

Most CEM students spend their first year on our Durham campus taking courses in ecology, natural resource economics, environmental policy and methodological skills. The second year is typically spent at the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C., where students prepare their master’s project and take courses specific to the coastal and marine environment.

Transferable Skills

Coastal Environmental Management students receive in-depth training in:

  • Community-based environmental management
  • Geographic information systems/geospatial analysis
  • Marine policy analysis
  • Interdisciplinary problem assessment and analysis
  • Applied data analysis

Your Future

The Nicholas School’s dedicated Career Center has helped hundreds of CEM graduates find fulfilling positions in federal and state agencies, intergovernmental organizations, industry, consulting firms and nonprofit organizations. Among the high-profile places you’ll find our alums are: The Nature Conservancy, the National Estuarine Research Reserves, NOAA, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Oceana, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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Prerequisites for all mem students

ADDITional prerequisiteS for CEM Students

  • A college microeconomics course or an introductory college economics course with a substantial microeconomics component.

Courses & Requirements


In addition to the MEM degree requirements, a typical CEM curriculum consists of the following components.

  • Required Introductory Courses (10.5 credit hours)
  • Applied Methodologies Courses (10.5 credit hours minimum)
  • Physical or Natural Science Courses (9 credit hours minimum)
  • Concentration Elective Courses (9 credit hours minimum)
  • Other Electives (3-6 credit hours)
  • Additional electives to meet the 48-credit hour minimum for degree completion

Requirements for All MEM Students

All MEM students must take the following courses:


CEM students are required to take two core policy classes and a general environmental economics sequence:

Each student must select a concentration area and take at least three Core Courses that complement that area (9 credit hours minimum).

Concentrations are flexible and subjective; the litmus test for a feasible topic is that it develops a coherent body of knowledge and a reasonably well-bounded arena for practical applications. There are several approaches you can use to select your concentration.  The Nicholas School and the Duke University Marine Lab, where most CEMs spend their second year, has particular expertise in several concentration areas, some of which are listed below and include: Community-based management; Estuaries, wetlands and coastal water quality; Applied marine ecology; Fisheries and aquaculture; Marine spatial planning, Coastal zone management, and Management of protected species and critical habitats.

Program Courses

Courses supporting the CEM program are taught within the Nicholas School, at several other departments at Duke, and at UNC-Chapel Hill and NCSU.  Many of these are offered at the Duke University Marine Lab, located in Beaufort, North Carolina.  This list of example courses is not exhaustive; see the Courses section for the current list of available courses.

This list is only provided to give examples of some popular current concentrations. A wide variety of common concentration areas or newly emerging areas may be considered. CEM students are expected to work with their academic advisors and the CEM program chairs to develop their individual topical concentration.

Possible concentration areas include:

Community-based management

  • ENV 551DA International Conservation and Development
  • Collective Action, Environment and Development (ENV 544)
  • ENV 528SA Community Based Marine Conservation in the Gulf of California
  • ENV 755 Community-based Environmental Management

Estuaries, wetlands and coastal water quality

  • Wetland Restoration Ecology (ENV 809)
  • Fundamentals of Water Biogeochemistry and Pollution (EOS 525)
  • Urban Tropical Ecology (ENV 571A)

Applied Marine Ecology

  • Marine Ecology (ENV 773LA)
  • Wetland Ecology and Management (ENV 812)
  • Environmental Toxicology (ENV 501)

Fisheries and Aquaculture

Should I Eat Fish? Economics, Ecology and Health (ENV 569)

  • Aquaculture and the Environment (ENV 719A)
  • Marine Fisheries Policy (ENV 533A)
  • Fisheries Biogeography (EVN 585)

Marine Spatial Planning

  • Geospatial Analysis for Coastal Marine Management (ENV 765)
  • Economic Valuation of the Environment (ENV 531)
  • Marine Conservation Biology (ENV 824A)

Coastal Zone Management

  • Environmental Law (ENV 835)
  • Landscape Analysis & Management (ENV 724)
  • Coastal Watershed Science and Policy (ENV 822A)

Management of Protected species and critical habitats

  • Biology of Marine Mammals (ENV 776A)
  • Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles
  • Marine Conservation Biology

Social Science and Policy

  • ENVIRON 533A Marine Fisheries Policy
  • ENVIRON 544 Collective Action Property Rights and the Environment
  • ENVIRON 502 Climate Change and the Law
  • ENVIRON 822A Coastal Watershed Science and Policy
  • ENVIRON 860SA Political Ecology

See all Courses

Tools Courses

Your tools courses provide the technical skills you’ll need to work effectively in your selected concentration area. Each student must complete at least four Tools Courses (12 credit hours minimum). It is strongly suggested that a statistics and data analysis course, such as ENVIRON710, be included as one of these courses. See example Tools Courses.

Your advisor can help you build a toolkit suited to your interests and past experience. The litmus test for a toolkit is that it is logically coherent and provides a practical set of skills for applications within that concentration. Example toolkit themes include:

  • Field ecology methods
  • Marine geospatial analysis and remote sensing
  • Social science methods
  • Policy analysis
  • Community based and participatory approaches
  • Data analysis and modeling


ENVIRON 710 Applied Data Analysis for Environmental Science (3 credit hours)
Other similar courses (e.g., at NCSU or UNC) may also be useful courses.

Marine Geospatial Analysis and remote sensing

(Note: While some of these are 4-credit hour courses, only 3 credit hours count per course in meeting the tools distributional requirement):

  • ENVIRON 559 Fundamentals of Geospatial Analysis (4 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 724 Landscape Analysis and Management (4 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 765 Geospatial Analysis for Marine and Coastal Mgmt (4 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 857L Satellite Remote Sensing for Environmental Analysis (4 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 859 Advanced Geospatial Analysis (3 credit hours)

Social Science Methods

  • ENVIRON 557 Social Science Surveys (3 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 556 Environmental Conflict Resolution (3 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 590.67 Participatory Methods (2 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 758 Applied Qualitative Research Methods (3 credit hours)
  • ENVIRON 832 Environmental Decision Analysis (3 credit hours)

Marine Field Ecology

  • ENVIRON 706 Wildlife Surveys
  • ENVIRON 809 Wetland Restoration Ecology
  • ENVIRON 771 Geospatial Field Data Collection

Policy analysis

  • ENVIRON 531 Economic Valuation of the Environment
  • ENVIRON 563 Cost-Benefit Analysis for Health and Environmental Policy
  • ENVIRON 569 Should I Eat Fish? Economics, Ecology, and Health
  • ENVIRON 705 Social Impact Analysis
  • ENVIRON 887A Theory and Methods for Policy Analysis of the Commons (3 credit hours, Beaufort)
  • ENVIRON 860SA Political Ecology

Assessments based on models (statistical or simulation)

  • ENVIRON 590.38 Species Distribution Modeling
  • ENVIRON 655L Bayesian Inference for Environmental Models
  • ENVIRON 756 Spatio-Temporal Environmental Models
  • ENVIRON 769 Hydrologic Modeling for Water Quantity and Quality Assessment
  • EOS 512 Climate Change and Climate Modeling

See all Courses

Specialized Elective Courses

The purpose of specialized elective courses is to support your topical concentration and Master’s Project and advance your career goals. Each student must select at least three electives (9 credit hours minimum) including one natural science course, one social science course, and one synthesis course. These courses should complement the rest of your curriculum and may be selected from the Concentration Courses and Tools Courses listed above, or from among many others in the Duke, UNC and NC State catalogs.

Additional Electives

Students typically must take several additional elective courses to fulfill the minimum 48-credit hour requirement for degree completion. We suggest additional specializing electives, although alternative plans (for example, foreign languages) are acceptable. Several seminar courses are also popular with ESC students.

For Current & Admitted Students

Master's Projects

In the second year, students will complete course requirements and devote time to the completion of the Master’s Project (MP). MPs in the CEM program can be either a 3 semester (individual or team) or 2 semester team-based project, though the large majority of students choose the 3S option.  Students seeking an original or applied research experience (3 semester) may propose a topic to a faculty member during the first year of study, and faculty often circulate their own ideas at that time. Project work begins in the second semester and culminates in the students’ final semester. Summer work is expected. At the start of the second semester, students identify an MP advisor and submit a project proposal.. Once a proposal is approved, students work with their faculty advisor to draft a scope of work. 

Students interested in a team-based (2-5 master’s students) multidisciplinary collaboration between an external partner and a faculty advisor will, in the first weeks of the 2nd year (3rd semester), select their top three MP topics from a project list assembled by faculty and staff. Shortly thereafter, students are assigned a project and faculty advisor, who will support the students in completing the project. In the final semester, all students present their MP in a public symposium. The final written report is due shortly before the start of final exams. Final MP reports are uploaded to DukeSpace, Duke University's open access repository for scholarly publications, theses and dissertations. Project expectations and the required number of credit hours vary by concurrent degree program.