A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree may not be an obvious complement to oceanography research skills, but the combination could help to unearth novel economic solutions to ecological problems such as fisheries collapse. To those ends, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, have created a joint oceanography PhD and MBA — the first in the United States.

“Ecology is the economics of nature,” says SIO ecologist George Sugihara. “It is the flow and allocation of resources.” Both are complex interconnected systems; perturbing one part causes ripples in another. “Management and policy are bumping up against business concerns, and having credentials in both worlds will give an individual that much more gravity,” he says.

Damien Cie is the first to enrol in the programme, which starts this autumn. He wants to combine marine science, political science and anthropology to find environmentally friendly aquaculture approaches in his native Hawaii. “If I'm going to go out and tell scientists that the science is sound, I should also be able to demonstrate to business people why this is economically viable,” he says.

Sugihara also expects areas such as marine-products chemistry, marine geology and biotechnology to benefit. The programme evolved out of an initiative from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in San Francisco to create a pipeline of environmental conservationists with science and business backgrounds — which their non-governmental partners were finding difficult to recruit. Market research showed nothing similar.

JoAnne Starr, assistant dean of Rady, says it will serve as a model for any future interdisciplinary degree offerings there. “Business schools are typically isolated,” she says. “We felt the need to establish one that would work in partnership with science and technology experts on campus to better reflect how innovation reaches the marketplace.” Students must first be admitted to the SIO through the normal admissions process. They may apply to Rady the year before they hope to begin their MBA study.

Sugihara says the programme will attract a fairly special individual, given the rigorous qualification standards at both the SIO and Rady. But he has no doubt that the programme will yield innovative successes, combining marine excellence with business in ways that no one can yet anticipate.