What is a marine biologist? It’s all in the name. “Marine” refers to the sea, or various bodies of water, while a “biologist” studies organisms and the way they live and interact with their environments. In short, a marine biologist studies all aspects of life in bodies of water. If these categories seem broad, it’s because they are. Marine biology is an extremely flexible field that encompasses thousands of different types of life and marine environments.
A marine biologist may study whales, the largest mammals on the planet, as well as the tiniest microbes that can survive in sub-zero arctic seas. Marine biologists can study ocean-dwelling mammals, plants rooted to the sea floor, vertebrate and invertebrate creatures alike, or even seawater itself. And those are just the “life” portions of the job description. On a planet that’s 71% made up of water, there are plenty of marine environments to go around, including deep oceans, inland seas, tidal pools, and algae-covered bogs. Last but not least is the laboratory, where marine scientists can conduct research in a controlled and sterile environment.
But to what end do marine biologists do the work they do? Many of these scientists do their research with the intent to increase the collective human understanding of marine environments and ways they affect the terrestrial ecosystems that surround them.
Civilization has changed marine environments drastically over the centuries, adapting coastlines, dumping plastics, injecting chemicals, and dispatching cruise liners, all of which have hundreds of different effects. By analyzing, understanding, and predicting these human-made or naturally-occurring alterations in ecosystems, marine biologists can offer humanity a broader understanding of the earth itself.
This article explains every aspect of being and becoming a marine biologist, from the types of work they do to the schooling required. Whether you’re preparing to go down the path of marine biology or are just curious about what it entails, you’re sure to walk away with a greater understanding of the ins and outs of this specific sector of sea-life studying scientists.
- Marine Biologist Jobs -
Marine biology is a broad field that affords its participants the freedom to follow their research interests. To succeed in different marine science posts, candidates need strong research abilities and a robust background in science. In fact, to specialize in a specific aspect of aquatic science is a necessity to advance in a career. This section outlines five distinct subgroups of marine biology, the types of jobs available in each, and their unique responsibilities.
As the most commonly-known aspect of marine biology, conservation also may have the most jobs available under its wide umbrella. Dealing with pollution, climate change, ocean levels, food supplies, biofuels, and renewable energies are just some of the tasks marine biologists perform in the field of conservation. By studying the resources human societies take from environments and what they put back into the marine world, marine biologists can better understand ways for civilization to function in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world. These scientists measure, analyze, and predict human activities and the results on the natural world, through development, fishing, and industry. Conservation jobs may include:
Responsibilities in conservation careers may involve:
In universities across the world, marine biologists conduct experiments, write papers, and teach their findings to experts in the field. Teams of marine scientists regularly head to the oceans or tidal pools they seek in order to test the merit of their hypotheses. Jobs in the research sector may consist of:
Marine biologists in the research field may be responsible for:
Teaching others about the marine world can be one of the most rewarding aspects of this career. People of all ages and walks of life are fascinated by it. In aquariums, summer science programs, science museums, and school presentations, marine biology educators have to combine their scientific acumen with creative communication skills to express concepts of marine biology to widely different types of audiences. Jobs here may include:
In education, marine biologists may be responsible for:
Because marine biology is still concerned with biology, it can be great preparation for anyone wanting to pursue a career in health scientists. In fact, some marine biologists use their background to study veterinary medicine and, in turn, work to restore the health of marine animals, like whales, dolphins, seals, and even penguins. Other individuals may use their marine biology backgrounds to eventually work with human health. As a science degree, marine biology can be an excellent springboard for anyone who wants to follow their passion for science, resulting in potential jobs like:
Health science-related marine biology responsibilities may be:
Finally, a number of jobs not directly related to marine science can be greatly enhanced with a background in marine biology. Some of these hybrid jobs may be:
Psychologists may study aquatic animal behavior, including ways they communicate and function in groups. Agriculture science students may become aquaculturists, scientists that focus on growing aquatic food resources. Engineers may research machines and devices meant to explore the deepest ocean trenches. All kinds of potential careers can be blended with and augmented by marine biology.
Responsibilities for this wide-ranging category can vary widely but undoubtedly overlap with the responsibilities of the four previously-mentioned marine biology subgroups.
Marine biology careers are overwhelmingly research-based. Although some individuals can obtain an undergraduate degree in marine biology and immediately enter the job field, most jobs require some form of postgraduate degree. But more often than not, individuals who want to become a marine biologist need to have a degree that focuses on marine science. These can include degrees in:
Other undergraduate science degrees with a broader focus may require an advanced degree, like a Master’s or Ph.D., to qualify for the marine biology world. It’s fairly common for students to use broad scientific degrees as springboards into the marine science field. These degrees might be in:
Alongside the prestige of a Master’s and Ph.D. degrees comes a higher degree of specificity, too. Whereas undergraduates may study sea life on a broad scale, postgraduate studies involve highly specialized biomes, such as aquatic ecology and conservation, tropical marine biology, or chemical oceanography. Master’s degrees are generally sufficient for the majority of marine biology jobs, but a Ph.D. is required if an individual wants to pursue either teaching at the college level or heading up a university research lab.
Working In The Field
There are many different organizations that hire and employ marine biologists, including universities, government agencies, non-profits, commercial companies, and marine research institutes. While universities may head up the largest number of researching jobs, there are several other opportunities for marine biologists in the industry as well. Engineering companies and companies that explore marine energy (like oil and gas) hire a number of marine biologists to ensure their practices aren’t harming the environment. Likewise, marine environment consulting companies are regularly hired by all types of industries to come and conduct environmental conservation tests.
Marine biology is a highly flexible field that allows individuals to achieve their wildest dreams, as long as they have a passion for marine life and engaged, scientific minds. The potential careers are widespread and cover a variety of different interests, engaging folks from all kinds of backgrounds. If you’re intrigued by an exciting career studying the wet world of water and the wonderful creatures that live in it, becoming a marine biologist may just be right for you.