Jul 15, 2024  
2024-25 Western Washington University Catalog 
2024-25 Western Washington University Catalog

Marine and Coastal Science, BS

Location(s): WWU - Bellingham

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Marine and Coastal Science, University Interdisciplinary Programs

105-112 credits


The B.S. in Marine and Coastal Science (MACS) is a cohort-based, interdisciplinary, and experiential program designed to provide students with the opportunity to engage in coastal and marine-focused research. Students and faculty at Western engage in research and education through a wide array of programs and partnerships, cooperating across fields of study, working in the lab and in the field.

Marine and Coastal Science is a joint program of the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, and Geology, and the Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC). Through MACS, we are advancing the state of knowledge about the oceans, coasts, and their ecosystems for the scientific community and for the communities we call home. Our students are learning to understand these systems, engage deeply with them, and become the creative problem solvers of tomorrow. The program brings together expertise on physical, chemical, geological, and biological marine science. Our courses allow students to explore and interpret fundamental observations about our coasts and oceans. Students develop an understanding of the process of science while gaining practical skills in a cohort-based learning environment.

The program has a focus on place-based learning that emphasizes connections to people and communities. Each student begins the program with a short intensive research and learning experience at SPMC. All the preparatory and core courses for the major are offered on the main Bellingham campus. Many electives are taught on main campus, but some courses, depending on their field and lab needs, regularly visit SPMC in Anacortes, Washington. Other courses are offered entirely at SPMC, generally meeting all day, one day a week to cut down on commuting time, to allow for experiences in the field, and to increase compatibility with other course schedules. Most students are based in Bellingham, but short-term housing is available in dorms at SPMC.

Why Consider a Marine and Coastal Science major?

Study Marine Science across disciplines

The MACS program is a partnership between the WWU departments of Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, and Geology, and the Shannon Point Marine Center. Students have unique opportunities to study marine science in an environment of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Learn, work, and thrive together

Participants study marine science as a cohort, beginning with research experiences in their first or second year, continuing through their third year in a core course series, and culminating with a capstone experience.

Gain research experience

Students have opportunities to engage in mentored, hands-on research opportunities during their freshmen or sophomore year through a one-week, immersive residential experience at the Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, Washington, about an hour south of Bellingham. Students have additional opportunities to participate in marine research in their upper-level MACS course work and through their capstone experience.

Access to marine labs and research vessels

Students spend time in the field, on oceanographic vessels, and in learning laboratories. 

 Contact Information


 Sample Careers

Naturalist | Marine Scientist | Aquarist | Geological Survey Scientist | Water Quality Specialist | Shellfish Biologist | Hatchery Technician | Shoreline Manager | Marine Natural Resources Manager | Fisheries Observer | Marine Environmental Educator

 Major/Career Resources


How to Declare (Admission and Declaration Process):

Once a year, during winter quarter, the program admits students into the major. Admission to the MACS program is selective, with cohorts of about 30 students per year. Western students can apply to the major once they have completed 4 of the 8 MACS preparatory courses (see below) and have a plan to complete the remaining 4 preparatory courses before the end of the Summer Quarter of the year they apply (note that PHYS 161 is not currently offered in Spring Quarter). Students must receive a grade of a C- or better on each of these preparatory courses.

The application to the MACS program opens on December 15 and is due on January 15 every year. Students are notified of admissions decisions prior to spring quarter course registration. Upon acceptance, MACS students take the introductory research course (MACS 210 or MACS 211) and the MACS seminar series in the spring and begin the core series (MACS 301, MACS 302, MACS 303, MACS 304) the following fall.

Transfer students interested in applying to the major apply to the program in the spring (March 1 deadline), while simultaneously applying to Western. Upon acceptance into the major, transfer students enroll in an introductory research course in the fall alongside the first of the core courses. 

To apply, students submit an online application (marine.wwu.edu), which asks for basic demographic information, academic history, and 3 essays asking students to reflect on their goals and experiences. The program uses this information to make holistic admissions decisions in an effort to create diverse and vibrant learning communities.

We highly recommend students interested in the major to set up an advising appointment with the MACS academic advisor (macsadvising@wwu.edu) so that they can plan out a schedule that allows them to complete MACS required preparatory classes in a reasonable timeline. Please see marine.wwu.edu/program-admissions for further information on applying to the MACS program and for a suggested timeline for completing these preparatory courses.

While not required to apply for the major, if their schedule allows, students are encouraged to complete either BIOL 205 and BIOL 206 or PHYS 162 and PHYS 163 at the same time as the preparatory courses.

Grade Requirements

A grade of C- or better is required for a student’s major or minor courses, and supporting courses for majors and minors.


Electives (24 credits)

Choose a minimum of 24 elective credits. Courses in addition to those listed below, including selected 300-400 level BIOL, CHEM, ESCI, GEOL, MACS courses may be acceptable under advisement.

Note: 60 credits of upper-division coursework is required by Western to graduate. Additional upper division credits above major requirements may be needed. Specific courses listed below may not be available to MACS students until the fourth day of Phase I registration. Check with MACS advisors when planning course of study.  

Marine and Coastal Science

Capstone (6 credits)

Must complete 6 capstone credits. MACS 496 Communicating Marine Science, 2 credits (required for all students) and one of the three options listed for 4 credits.

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