Marine biologists study the fascinating animal, plant, and microscopic life in oceans. An estimated 80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface! Plants and animals act as indicators of the effect of human activities on the planet, including pollution and climate change. Marine biologists play a vital role in studying these effects. 

What does a marine biologist do?

Marine biologists investigate all kinds of issues and problems. Some examples include: 

  • overfishing has led to a reduction of worldwide stocks of certain fish species 

  • Plastic pollution has led to over 12 million tonnes entering the oceans every year 

  • ocean acidification and warming oceans have resulted in coral loss and coral bleaching 

  • The release of hot water and other effluents by various industries has altered the ecological balance of the oceans 

  • oil spills wreak long-term havoc on local ecosystems and biodiversity 

  • pollution has caused an increase in water-borne infections in humans 

  • the use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers, and chemicals 

On a positive note, marine biologists can help address many of these problems. For instance, they are working for offshore oil and gas companies to reduce the negative impact of their operations on marine life. They are also involved in developing designated marine reserves and creating artificial reefs/wrecks to encourage wildlife into an area. Concern for the marine environment and an interest in water-based leisure activities have made this area of applied biology a popular career choice.

What skills and personal qualities do you need for marine biology?

  • an affinity with the marine environment and an interest in aquatic life 

  • excellent numerical and statistics skills (particularly sought by employers) 

  • practical fieldwork skills 

  • patience and good observation skills 

  • excellent teamwork and personal communication abilities 

  • good written and oral communication skills 

  • to be prepared to work outdoors in all weathers  

What about entry, training, and qualifications?

The usual requirement for professional posts in marine biology is a degree in biology or biochemistry. It is advisable to start with a broad degree as this may offer you more career options and will ensure that you get a good understanding of how biology ‘fits into’ your marine interests. A relevant degree can be followed by a postgraduate degree specialising in marine biology – in fact, most jobs now ask for postgraduate qualifications.  

Who employs marine biologists?

  • Research and advisory bodies (such as the institutes funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science) 

  • University research teams 

  • Non-governmental Organisations 

  • Commercial fisheries 

  • Government-run regulatory and environmental bodies, e.g., the Marine and Fisheries Agency and the Environment Agency in the UK 

  • Large industrial concerns, such as offshore oil and gas exploration companies 

  • Environmental consultancies 

What else can you do to improve your employability?

Joining a professional institute, such as the IMarEST, provides you with a range of benefits and services that are tailored to your point in your career, to support your professional development, raise your profile and connect you with other like-minded professionals from around the world. 

You could also gain relevant experience by volunteering. Many non-governmental organisations run conservation research expeditions that you can gain practical fieldwork skills and research skills, whilst also having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

What about future prospects?

Job vacancies are often offered for a fixed term of two to three years to work on a particular project. Many jobs are based overseas…or at sea! It is possible for marine biologists to progress to senior research scientist and management-level positions.