Navigating Wicked Marine Problems

In the spring of 2015, the Monterey Area Research Institutions' Network for Education (MARINE) offered a course entitled "Navigating Wicked Marine Problems". Twenty-two students from institutions from our MARINE network participated in this 8-week course held at Moss Landing Marine Labs. This inter-campus, and interdisciplinary course was developed in partnership between the Center for Ocean Solutions, MARINE, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and Moss Landing Marine Labs. More information can be found here and course materials can be downloaded from the course curriculum package.



Course Developers

Ashley Erikson, JD, & Laura Good, PhD, Center for Ocean Solutions (COS)
Michael McGinnis, PhD, Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS)
Jim Harvey, PhD, & Alison Stimpert, PhD, Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML)
John Joseph, Naval Postgraduate School (NPS)


22 students: California State University, Monterey Bay (3), Moss Landing Marine Labs (1), Middlebury Institute of International Studies (4), Naval Postgraduate School (10), San Francisco State University (1), Stanford (3)

Course Topics

  • Wicked nature of marine issues
  • Ocean acoustics & effects of ship noise
  • Whale ecology & vessel strikes
  • Pollution, invasive species, and public health concerns related to vessels
  • Regulatory tools, and ocean planning
  • The Role of Stakeholders in Wicked Problem Solving
  • The Role of Private Maritime Industry and Harbors
  • Communication, and collaboration in interdisciplinary groups



Course Description

Commercial shipping is essential to international trade, consumer goods and the global economy, but can impact the marine environment. Container ships use vessel traffic schemes that often overlap with important marine areas, creating unintended pressures and associated impacts to marine ecosystems, including whales. In particular, ship strikes are a threat to endangered blue, right, humpback, and fin whales, and ship noise can affect important mating and feeding behavior of whales as well as other marine life. In this course, the issue of whale and vessel interactions was used as a case study to help students identify threats, pressures, and policy responses of a complex, or "wicked", ocean-based problem. In project teams, students completed a pressure-state-response analysis of a problem, with the goal of developing practical and professional skills necessary to participate in complex marine planning and decision-making in their post-graduate careers. Students also had networking opportunities with experts, scientists and professionals who have experience and background on the primary themes of the course. To enhance collaborative interdisciplinary problem-solving opportunities, this course also involved teambuilding activities, and collaborative assignments with interdisciplinary students from multiple campuses.

Teaching Objectives

  1. Provide students with a realistic interdisciplinary approach to identify the synergistic pressures and policy/planning responses to wicked marine problems
  2. Prepare students to identify and assess the multiple factors contributing to "wicked" interdisciplinary marine problems using a case study to showcase this complexity
  3. Improve students' applied and practical skills, which are required to strengthen the nexus between marine science and policymaking




Jim Harvey (MLML)
Mike McFinnis (MIIS)
Jason Scorse (MIIS)
John Joseph (NPS)
Alison Stimpert (MLML)
Ashley Erickson (COS)
Chris Miller (NPS)
Laura Good (COS)
Nick Welschmeyer (MLML)
Asha de Vos (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Cmdr Amy Wirts (United States Coast Guard)
Elliott Hazen (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Brandon Southall (Southall Environmental Associates, Inc.)
Michael C. Carver (Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary)
Anna Zivian (Ocean Conservancy)
Sean Hastings (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary)
John Berge (Pacific Merchant Shipping Association)
Brendan Kelley (Monterey Bay Aquarium)


"The guest speakers were fantastic!"

"I loved the lecture series and readings. A diverse group of topics and speakers is a perfect way to approach a 'wicked problem'."

"Enjoyed this class very much. I wish more of my classes were like this! I actually have friends at MLML and NPS that were really bummed they didn't take this class and they're hoping it gets offered again."