A program that focuses on the scientific study of the ecology and behavior of microbes, plants, and animals inhabiting oceans, coastal waters, and saltwater wetlands and their interactions with the physical environment. Includes instruction in chemical, physical, and geological oceanography; molecular, cellular, and biochemical studies; marine microbiology; marine botany; ichthyology; mammalogy; marine population dynamics and biodiversity; reproductive biology; studies of specific species, phyla, habitats, and ecosystems; marine paleocology and palentology; and applications to fields such as fisheries science and biotechnology.

Marine biologists study organisms that dwell in saltwater environments.

Marine biologists and biological oceanographers focus on oceans, though some study estuaries or wetlands like saltwater marshes. These saltwater biomes contain all kinds of plants, animals, and microorganisms that require study, care, and further investigation. There are many types of marine biologists, from those who study the behavior of marine mammals like dolphins to those who map coral formations or develop sustainable fishing practices.

Collecting data on marine environments can be incredibly difficult due to factors like depth, water pressure, inclement weather, and access to specialized equipment. Marine biologists and oceanographers frequently make use of submarines, underwater cranes, and specially outfitted cameras, which are all designed for precision and can be very expensive. Even lab work has added complexities, as live specimens need to be housed in saltwater while they are studied. Oceanography teams often spend long stretches of time on boats, far from land, and may travel to various marine locations to conduct research.

Work in marine biology may include...

  • Collecting samples and specimens from underwater environments
  • Using specialty instruments to record, collect, and interpret data
  • Restoring the health of marine ecosystems or organisms
  • Conducting research and analyzing data
  • Monitoring oceans for pollution and other impactful changes

Marine biologists can work in a variety of environments, most of them wet. Many are employed by zoos, aquariums or fisheries. Others work at universities and special marine research labs, conducting studies and analyzing the data. Some have unorthodox jobs, such as documenting shipwrecks or operating submersibles. Government agencies habitually employ marine biologists, and many oceanographers join the U.S. Navy in particular. There are some interesting job options in biotechnology, industry, and policy; those with expertise in marine biology can work as consultants for environmental law firms or companies that design and engineer equipment for ocean exploration.

Most marine biologists start by obtaining a Bachelor's degree in biology, which should include coursework in microbiology, ecology, botany, and zoology. Some coastal colleges offer specialized marine biology programs that allow students to study oceanography at the undergraduate level; these programs provide valuable opportunities for students to get in the water and do hands-on work. Many graduates of these programs are able to find work in their field after completing a four-year degree, particularly if they have experience operating marine research equipment. Students who want to work with animals will sometimes go to veterinary school. Those who want to conduct independent research or explore the field further have the option of pursuing graduate study; Master's and Doctoral programs in marine biology allow students to choose a specific discipline and give them access to more advanced equipment or data.

More than 70% of the planet is ocean, and there are so many mysteries swimming around in its depths. If you want to get in there and see what they're up to, marine biology could be the career for you.

For more information, please follow the links below:

  • The MarineBio Conservation Society is a volunteer marine conservation and science education group working online to educate the world about ocean life, marine biology, marine conservation, and a sea ethic.
  • The Association of Zoos & Aquariums helps its members and the animals in their care thrive by providing services advancing animal welfare, public engagement and the conservation of wildlife.
  • The American Fisheries Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources.
  • The Society for Marine Mammalogy promotes the global advancement of marine mammal science and contributes to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management.