Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Michael Vincent McGinnis

Associate Professor

I am passionate about forging a more sustainable future that includes the protection of diverse maritime cultures and the ecosystems that we are irrevocably connected to and dependent on.

What excites me about being a professor at MIIS is teaching graduate level students who have diverse interests and backgrounds, and who are committed to addressing the major challenges that human society faces today. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from students, and to collaborate with faculty at MIIS.


Marine Policy, Climate Change, and Water/Watershed Planning

Research and Publications

Mike is interested in the interface between science and policymaking.  He has fifteen years of professional and academic experience in the area of large-scale environmental policymaking and planning in diverse cultural and socio-economic settings.

He has published over 100 journal articles, essays, books, government reports and technical documents on the subject of large-scale ecosystem-based planning and biodiversity conservation, with a focus on oceans, rivers, creeks, and islands. His edited compendium Bioregionalism (Routledge, 1999) is the primary text in the field.  He has also contributed to federal and state policymaking and planning activities for marine sanctuary management plans and watershed-based plans across coastal California.

From 1993-2000 his research, funded by three awards from the USA National Science Foundation, focused on the role of worldviews, values, beliefs and science in the development of ecosystem-based planning. From 1999-2008 he was an advisor to federal agencies in the development of marine ecosystem-based planning in California. During this time, he assisted the National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) Program in all of the planning aspects associated with the designation of marine reserves within the Channel Islands NMS. In 2008 he was a Fulbright Scholar in south-eastern Europe, and conducted a comparative study of marine governance supported by the European Union. In April 2012, he completed a two-year study on New Zealand's marine governance framework funded by the ministries of that country. McGinnis is currently completing two books on the subject of the role of ecology and politics in large-scale ecosystem-based planning and decision-making.

Recent Accomplishments

  • Mike was one of the first Fulbright Scholars to the Republic of Montenegro in southeastern Europe in 2008.
  • As a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wellington New Zealand he has completed a comprehensive study of New Zealand’s marine governance framework in 2011; a study supported by the ministries of the country that offers a range of recommendations to improve New Zealand’s marine governance system.  This study will be revised as a major book on the subject of New Zealand’s environmental governance system.

Previous Work

Mike was Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Center at the University of California Santa Barbara from 1995-2010. In 2008, he was a Fulbright Scholar to the Republic of Montenegro. From 2010-2012 he was a Senior Fellow and Professor at the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). He has published over 100 journal articles, essays, books, government reports and technical documents on the subject of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem-based planning.

Non-academic Interests

Mike has surfed since he was seven years old, and is enjoys hiking, sailing, and other ocean-going and backcountry wilderness activities. He also in a painter and has been writing a series of vignettes and poems on the landscapes and seascapes of coastal California.


Dr Michael Vincent McGinnis received a PhD in Political Science in 1993 from UC Santa Barbara. His undergraduate degree was from UC Los Angeles.


Book, Marine Governance: The New Zealand Dimension. Victoria University Wellington Press. 2012 (December). (150 pages).

The Race for Marine Space: Science, Values and Aquaculture Planning in New Zealand,
Coastal Management 41, 5 (2013): 401-419.

Adapting to Climate Impacts in California: The Importance of Civic Science in Local Coastal Planning, Coastal Management 39: 3 (April 2011): 225-241 (with C.E. McGinnis).

Living up to the Brand: Greening New Zealand’s Ocean Policy, Policy Quarterly 8, 1 (February 2012): 17-28.

A Bioregional Primer for Santa Barbara County, Funded by the Santa Barbara Foundation, December, 2012. (72 pages).

Mindfulness of the Oceanic Commons, Pacific Ecologist 20 (Winter 2011): 55-60.

Land Use, Agriculture, and the Environment, The 2010 Central Coast Survey, UC Santa Barbara, Published by Social Science Survey Center/Benton Survey Research Lab. 2010 (with Cleveland, David, Paolo Gardinali, Garrett Glasgow, John Mohr,
Eric Smith, Megan Carney, and Lauren Copeland).

Protecting Climate Refugia Areas: The case of the Gaviota coast in southern California, Endangered Species Update 25, 4 (June 2008): 103-109.

Negotiating Ecology: Marine Bioregions and the destruction of the Southern California Bight, Futures 38;3 (May 2006): 382-405.

The California Watershed Movement: Science and the Politics of Place. Natural Resources Journal 42, 1 (Winter 2002): 133-183 (with Woolley).

Bioregional Conflict Resolution: Rebuilding Community in Watershed-based Planning and Organizing, Environmental Management 24, 1 (1999): 1-12 (with Woolley and J.K. Gamman).

Course List

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

IEPG8503 - Resrch Strategies for Env Pol      

This course introduces students to the design and implementation of research, with an emphasis on applied research into contemporary social and ecological issues that part of policy development and implementation. The course will be interdisciplinary in scope and will include the use of historical, ethnographic, biophysical, political and contextual data and information. The course will cover various social science methods, including political science, policy analysis, and sociology, and associated analytical approaches that can be used to develop and design research proposals, including case study and comparative case studies, survey design, content analysis, documentary analysis, and ethnographic approaches.

Fall 2015 - MIIS

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IEPG8517 - Foundations of Climate Science      

This course focuses on the biophysical factors that contribute to climate change. The emphasis is on the relevant materials and information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was produced and disseminated in 2014. The factors introduced include the role of recent and historical changes in the atmosphere, ocean, and landscape that contribute to major long-term change in the climate. The emphasis is on the scientific evidence described by the various members of the scientific community, and includes guest speakers from this community. The primary goal is for students to have a general understanding of the scientific and technical knowledge that shows that climate change has significant impact on the biosphere.

Fall 2016 - MIIS

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IEPG8522 - Environmental Ethics      

This course introduces the major themes of environmental ethics. In the face of a generalized claim of environmental crisis, numerous authors and schools of thought have suggested a variety of ethical and political responses. The central focus will be on the various ethical theories that have evolved regarding the relationships between humans and the rest of the natural world, and how technology, a sense of place and community, the science of ecology, diverse natural values, and political institutions have shaped the past and present treatment of the natural world. We will also explore and discuss how these diverse ethical theories and beliefs are articulated in politics today, and will characterize the ecological and social movements that are emerging that reflect these ethical and value orientations.

Spring 2016 - MIIS

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IEPG8611 - Sustainable Coastal Management      

Coasts are an important source of native species diversity and provide a rich array of ecosystem services to humans. About forty percent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of a coast. Urban and economic development over the past fifty years has taken a heavy ecological toll on coasts and they are highly degraded. Going forward, coastal economies, communities and ecosystems are all highly vulnerable to the projected impacts of climate change, including flooding, storm surges, subsidence and sea level rise.

This course provides a foundation in the management challenges and governance frameworks of sustainable coastal management. The central focus of the course is on coastal climate vulnerability and resilience. Taught by a multi-disciplinary team, the course integrates science, economics, and policy perspectives on climate risk, adaptation, and resilience.

Part One examines current policy and legal frameworks for coastal management, explores ecological vulnerability to climate change and considers how current frameworks promote or impede adaptation. Part two examines the socio-economic vulnerability of coastal cities to climate change, explores the benefits and costs of both top-down and bottom-up adaptation options, and considers the role of households and the private sector in promoting community resilience. Many of the readings focus on the California coast but we will examine case studies from other parts of the US and internationally. Students will work in teams to produce a Consultation Practicum and a case study of a coastal city which includes a climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation options analysis.

Fall 2015 - MIIS, Fall 2016 - MIIS

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IEPG8615 - Intl Watershed Management         


The study of watershed planning is a subject that combines the biophysical and social sciences. It requires that we explore the relationships and linkages between coastal, marine and aquatic habitats and the human activities, such as water use, water pollution, and habitat loss that impact watershed ecosystems. As a consequence, this course will focus on a characterization of the ecology of aquatic ecosystems, and the impacts of human beings and climate change on these ecosystems across diverse cultural contexts. It will include a review of government and non-governmental watershed-based programs and plans that exist in less developed and industrialized countries.

The Course Outline describes the major themes of the course and associated reading assignments (including recommended readings and useful web links), and lecture topics, including case study materials. The goals of this course are:

(1) to introduce the ecological factors that influence disturbance of watershed ecosystems;

(2) to describe integrative watershed management principles;

(3) to review state, federal and international policies and programs that support watershed-based ecosystem management and integrative planning; and,

(4) to provide an overview of the major policy initiatives and planning tools that support watershed-based ecosystem management in diverse contexts.

Spring 2015 - MIIS, Spring 2016 - MIIS

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IEPG8625 - Intl Environmental Assessment      

This seminar focuses on the environmental assessment of development, particularly internationally, both at the policy and practical levels. Participants will develop skills for analyzing and evaluating environmental assessment systems while exploring their relationship to wider policy issues like climate change and sustainability. The following questions will be considered: What are the components of a successful process? How do politics, the public, and the courts effect the outcome? What are strengths and weaknesses of various approaches? How are issues like climate change and sustainability incorporated into the environmental assessment requirements? The class will briefly consider the planning context for environmental assessment in California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CEQA and NEPA have been important models internationally for developing legislation and policy. They will be used to compare assessment practices in other countries, the European Union, and at the World Bank. Real world case studies will be presented to exemplify the workings of the process. Participants will choose a country to concentrate on, and prepare a detailed analysis and evaluation of its environmental assessment process.

Spring 2016 - MIIS

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IEPG8634 - NavigatingWickedMarineProblems      


The main objective of this course is to expose students to skills and techniques relevant for carrying out a substantive original multidisciplinary research project with a focus on human adaptation to the coastal impacts of climate change. During the seminar, we will explore coastal hazards, socioeconomic characteristics, and vulnerability of coastal communities to the impacts of climate change, as well as relevant adaptation alternatives. Additionally, this course will give participants an opportunity to further develop their communication, presentation and technical skills.

The course will be divided into three parts. The first part will focus on personal and technical skills relevant to multidisciplinary research. The second part will include an overview of climate concepts and review of the latest scientific findings related to climate change - i.e. the latest assessment report from the International Government panel on climate change (IPCC AR5). The third part of the seminar will focus on socioeconomic vulnerability and relevant coastal adaptation actions. Groups of students will develop a basic assessment of climate change impacts, review adaptation alternatives for a chosen coastal region, and present their findings to the class.

This course will include hands-on, experiential, collaborative learning and research activity. Students will learn to locate and summarize existing scientific literature and relevant data, and effectively present their work. Students will be introduced to the world of multidisciplinary research and receive an overview of technical tools required to carry out cutting edge research. Finally, the group project presentations during the final week of the course will give students an opportunity to develop and practice their presentations skills. This is an ideal course for students who are interested in interdisciplinary research, climate change, coastal hazards and related issues.

Spring 2015 - MIIS

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IEPG8635 - Intl Marine Science & Policy      

The study of marine science and policy is a subject that combines the biophysical and social sciences with a comprehensive overview of marine policies, laws, and planning tools. It requires that we explore the relationships and nexus between science, policy and planning across diverse maritime cultures. The course will first provide a general overview of marine science, with a particular focus on the role of marine science in identifying pressures, threats and stressors to marine systems. The emphasis will be on the various factors that contribute to marine ecosystem disturbance and the role of marine science in policymaking and planning. The introduction to marine science will be followed by a general overview of state and federal marine policy and management. The US marine policy framework will be compared to international examples of ocean governance, including small island countries, New Zealand, England, the European Union, China, and less developed countries.

Fall 2015 - MIIS, Fall 2016 - MIIS

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