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Study information

Marine and Coastal Social-ecological systems

Module titleMarine and Coastal Social-ecological systems
Module codeGEOM418
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Tomas Chaigneau (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The question of how human societies can live within environmental limits has been debated for hundreds of years. Exponential growth and the pressure of human activities on the Earth could be destabilising critical biophysical systems and causing irreversible environmental change, with catastrophic consequences for human wellbeing. These issues are exemplified in coastal and marine systems, where the impacts of humans on the marine environment and the ways in which the natural environment can affect coastal communities clearly demonstrate the need to consider social and ecological systems In this module you will start to unpack the complex relationship between social and ecological systems through an understanding of poverty, wellbeing, ecological tipping points and trade-offs. You will study a range of interdisciplinary and cross-cutting topics across different regions of the globe to explore how coastal and marine resource management can intentionally and unintentionally impact the sea and the people and communities that depend on it. Lectures will be supported by seminars in which you will discuss and debate current sustainability challenges from a variety of different perspectives and explore proposed solutions and their consequent impacts on nature and society.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop your understanding of marine and coastal sustainability through a series of lectures that will:

  • Examine the complex relationship between social and ecological systems in marine environments and coastal communities.
  • Apply these ideas to understanding the unintended consequences of marine and coastal management
  • Discuss key concepts and debates across different disciplines such as politics, geography and economics
  • Use Research-Inspired Inquiry-Led Learning to look at real-world problems, sustainability issues at different scales and places, and new approaches and innovations in these fields.

The module content explores topical research areas of global relevance, drawing on current research from examples in both temperate and tropical environments. We will explore cutting-edge research, for example to investigate how links between ecosystem services and wellbeing are being explored in East Africa and how human behaviour is key to understanding UK fisheries. You will learn about the tools required to study such problems, and think about how such processes are measured in the field.

Through the seminars and assessments, you will develop skills relevant to future employment:

  • You will develop your ability to identify key demands of tasks, manage your time effectively, work collaboratively in groups, and present your ideas effectively.
  • You will actively contribute to the content and delivery of the module though the selection of seminar readings and the design of group seminar activities.
  • You will be encouraged to use the coursework to develop your own interests by engaging with current global policy agendas, considering real-world scenarios, and applying theory to practical situations to develop your skills in problem-solving.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Assess critically and comprehensively the main issues and ideas surrounding past, present and future sustainability in marine and coastal environments
  • 2. Review and evaluate thoroughly a range of key concepts and theory that underpin emerging sustainability challenges
  • 3. Examine the complex interactions between coastal social and ecological systems to help predict unintended consequences of coastal interventions

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of geography/environmental science
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within environmental science
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of geography/environmental science with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 10. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 11. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 12. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 13. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Understanding social-ecological systems
  • Marine and coastal conservation
  • Social sustainability, poverty and human wellbeing
  • Understanding human behaviour in coastal environments
  • Measuring sustainability and shifting baselines
  • Conflicts and trade-offs between sustainability objectives
  • Issues of scale from community to national level
  • Human responses to environmental change

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching13Lectures (11 x 1 hours) and assessment help sessions (2 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching7Seminar preparation sessions (2 x 1 hour) and student-led seminars (5 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study130Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and contribution to seminar discussionsOngoing throughout the module 1-15Oral
Essay preparation: essay plan500 words1-15Written and peer feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay703000 words1-13Written feedback sheet
Group oral presentation3020 minutes1-11,15Written feedback sheet

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-13August assessment period
Group oral presentationPowerPoint presentation1-11,15August assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to re-submit the failed assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Blewitt (2014) Understanding Sustainable Development. Routledge
  • Raworth, K. Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.
  • Roe, D. et al., eds. Biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation: exploring the evidence for a link. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
  • Dryzek and Schlosberg (2005) Debating the Earth, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • Adger and Jordan (2009) Governing Sustainability, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • Leach, Scoones and Stirling (2010) Dynamic Sustainabilities, Earthscan, London
  • Adams (2009) Green Development, Routledge, Oxon
  • Johnson D, Acott T, Stacey N and Urquhart J (Eds) (2018) Social Wellbeing and the Values of Small-scale Fisheries, MARE Publication Series, Springer
  • Martin, Adrian. Just conservation: Biodiversity, wellbeing and sustainability. Taylor & Francis, 2017
  • Atkinson, Dietz and Neumayer, Eds. (2014) Handbook of Sustainable Development. EE Publishing

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Marine, coastal, sustainability, social-ecological systems development, environment, natural resource management, conservation, human wellbeing, poverty

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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