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Sustainability: Ocean-Based Solutions (SOS)

Examining how people, countries, and societies are growing ocean-based tools to address the most pressing problems facing our world

Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands (image: Vincent van Zeijst, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Duke Immerse program, Sustainability: Ocean-Based Solutions (SOS), is designed to promote an integrated educational and research experience, modeled on the broader Duke Climate Commitment, towards enabling undergraduate students to take career paths or make life choices that seek ocean-based sustainability solutions for major societal needs: food and energy. The primary goal of the program is to examine how people, countries and societies are growing ocean-based tools to address the most pressing problems facing our world.   

This program integrates 3 human engineeredsolutions that are showing great promise to enhance global sustainability: 

Salmon farms off the Faroe Islands (Denmark)
Ekrem Canli, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aquaculture, the rearing of plants or animals in aquatic environments, now accounts for more production than wild-caught fisheries.  While global fisheries have remained stagnant for decades, aquaculture continues to grow ~8% per year and it is increasingly focused on sustainable production.  Aquaculture provides an ocean-based solution for increasing food production. 

Offshore Energy from wind turbines is increasingly becoming a major source of sustainable energy.  The technology is growing >10% per year and wind energy generates more than all other non-hydroelectric renewal energy sources combined. Offshore wind turbines provide an ocean-based solution for energy production.


Marine Policy or marine affairs, economics, ocean governance and management, spatial planning, and other sub-disciplines are applied to problems and opportunities arising out of human use of the oceans.  Unlike policy and regulation for terrestrial-based activities, marine policy is of particular importance in the development of ocean-based solutions because coastal and ocean waters within state boundaries are typically state (and not privately) owned and thus must directly compete with many other potential uses.  


Please note: Students will be on-site at the Duke Marine Lab for the semester (when they are not traveling for the field experience). Information about the Duke Marine Lab can be found here. 


Locations: Duke Marine Lab (Beaufort, NC); France/Belgium/Faroe Islands (Denmark)

Term: Fall 2024

Dates: Travel Schedule (~Oct. 7-20)

Application Deadline: March 1, 2024

Academic Themes: Marine Science, Environmental Science and Policy Studies, Sustainability Engagement

Eligibility: Students must have taken WRITING 101; non-Duke students matriculated at Duke are eligible for this program. 

Program Fee

Participants are required to pay a program fee of $1,500 in addition to regular Duke tuition, fees, and room and board. This fee covers all program costs, including airfare. Financial aid packages may be used to cover these costs; if you have any question or concern as to whether financial aid will be able to cover this for you, please reach out to the Karsh Financial Support Office directly (; they are familiar with Duke Immerse and can answer your questions.


Students accepted into Sustainability: Ocean-Based Solutions (SOS), will receive the permission numbers needed to enroll in this set of Duke Immerse courses. Enrolled students must take the four courses outlined below. Overloading is acceptable with the permission of all instructors; no underload is permitted. (One Duke semester course credit is equivalent to four semester hours.)

Course numbers: ENVIRON 319A /MARSCI 319A
Curriculum codes: NS, STS, W 
Course Description: This course describes the major environmental, social and economic drivers of increasing global aquaculture, with a focus on marine systems. Quantitative evaluation and comparison of the range of species for aquaculture, locations where operations occur, operational aspects including environmental impacts and management considerations are all explored.  Investigation of alternative approaches and potential future areas for aquaculture expansion as well as social, economic and technical barriers to implementation are also discussed. This is a writing based course (W) and while students perform analyses in class, most of the graded work is in the form of short papers or other written discussion of topics enhancing communication skills   
Instructor: Johnson 

Course numbers: MARSCI 323A 

Curriculum codes: NS, STS 
Course Description:This course exposes students to the full suite of offshore renewable energy in use and under development worldwide. It helps students evaluate the tradeoffs associated with development of offshore renewable energy, including contrasting traditional energy sources, e.g., offshore oil/gas. Students learn to assess the potential impacts (positive and negative) of offshore renewable energy on offshore wildlife and to critically evaluate environmental impact statements, permitting applications, government agency guidelines pertinent to offshore renewable energy development. 

Instructor: Nowacek 

Course numbers:
Curriculum codes: EI, SS, STS 
Course Description: This course tackles an evolving field that involves the various courses of action to influence decisions, actions, and other ocean related matters. Because it involves influencing human attitudes and behavior, developing marine policy is complex. The course addresses the question of how we design effective policies to accommodate these various interests. The course engages complex topics and is about marine policy in a broad sense and includes a substantial emphasis on policy analysis. 
Instructor: Gill

Course numbers: TBD
Curriculum codes: TBD
Course Description: Independent Study projects are a signature element of the Duke Marine Lab experience, and here it represents an important component of the Immerse package. The IS ‘class’ provides real world experience for students in the fields of marine and sustainability science research, and permits students to become familiar with techniques and approaches used in the laboratory, in silico, and field while being an active participant in the scientific method. It gives students the chance to explore an area of interest more deeply by performing novel research in one focus area of ocean sustainability. The IS experience also creates accountability and ownership for the area of study. Core Immerse faculty (Johnson, Nowacek, and Murray) will provide potential IS projects that can be done individually or in small teams, but other marine lab faculty or partners (e.g., NOAA) can also mentor these students.
Instructors: Core Immerse faculty (Johnson, Nowacek, and Gill)


Zackary Johnson

Zackary Johnson, Ph.D.

(Lead Faculty Director) Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Biological Oceanography and Marine Biotechnology, Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment & Duke Marine Lab

Doug Nowacek

Doug Nowacek, Ph.D.

Randolph K. Repass and Sally-Christine Rodgers University Distinguished Professor of Conservation Technology in Environment and Engineering, Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment

David Gill

David Gill, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment & Duke Marine Lab

Program contacts: Email Zackary Johnson ( or Duke Immerse ( for more information.


All students who are interested, regardless of documentation or citizenship status, are encouraged to apply; accommodations and opportunities will be made for students who are unable to travel. We welcome Durham-based DKU students and UNC Robertson Scholars to apply. Please email the Duke Immerse director, Susan Pratt ( if you are interested in participating. Complete the online application using MyExperientialEd.