A marine biologist collecting water samples from the ocean

A marine biologist could...


Research how ocean acidification is affecting marine organisms. Close-up photo of coral in a reef Discover new compounds to make medications by studying novel marine bacteria. Circular bacteria colonies growing in a petri dish
Help the seafood industry provide consumers with sustainable food choices. An assortment of various seafood Tag and track whales to learn more about their behavior. Four orcas swimming near the oceans surface side-by-side
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Do you enjoy going to the ocean? Do you like examining all of the marine creatures in tide pools? Do you read up on the different kinds of ocean mammals and fish for fun? If this is the case, then you may be the right fit for a career as a marine biologist. Marine biology is the study of ocean aquatic organisms, their behaviors, and their interactions with the environment. Because this field of study is an intersection of zoology, biology, and technology, marine biologists can apply their knowledge in many different ways.
Key Requirements Love of nature and the oceans, creativity, persistence, curiosity
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, marine biology, statistics
Median Salary
Marine Biologist
  $71,890
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
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Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
Interview
  • Marine biologist Sylvia Earle has spent much of the last five decades exploring and protecting the world's oceans.
  • Dr. Scott Baker is from Alabama but works in New Zealand. In this Scholastic interview, he answers all kinds of questions about marine biology.
  • You can learn a lot about marine biology by reading these marine biology career profiles at the SeaGrant marine careers website.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Taking workshops or attending seminars on an ongoing basis can be a crucial part of learning new ideas and skills. This becomes especially important for those who wish to publish their work or perform topical and cutting-edge research.

Education and Training

A bachelor's or master's degree in marine biology, biology, or zoology usually is required for most entry-level marine biology research jobs, though a PhD usually is required to carry out independent research in biology and to teach at the university level.

Nature of the Work

Marine biology is the study of marine organisms, their behaviors, and their interactions with their environment. However, the term marine biology is actually used for many disciplines and jobs in the marine sciences that deal with the study of marine life, not just for those concerning the physical properties of the sea. Marine biology is one of the broadest fields of study in oceanography. Marine biologists must have a working knowledge of chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and geological oceanography.

This video shows a profile of the remarkable marine biologist Sylvia Earle.

Because marine biology is so broad, most marine biologists usually specialize in one area. A marine biologist could study a specific species, behavior, or the ecosystem that marine organisms live in.

  • Marine biotechnologists study and apply the functions and behaviors of marine species to improve human life. Some marine biotechnologists study marine organisms in order to develop drugs that are used to cure human disease.
  • Molecular biologists apply molecular approaches to the study of marine ecosystems and marine organisms. For example, a molecular biologist investigates diseases of marine organisms at a molecular level, using appropriate tools and techniques.
  • Aquaculturists study the farming of finfish, shellfish, and seaweed. This area of study is gaining importance as consumer demand for fish exceeds what can be caught by commercial fishing. These scientists work to improve the output of their farms and eliminate disease in the fish population.
  • Environmental biologists and toxicologists study how toxic substances in the marine environment have impacts on and applications in our society. Examples of environmental biology and toxicology research include water-quality studies and surveys of contaminants or pollutants in the coastal or marine environment. Local, state, and federal officials consult marine and environmental biologists and toxicologists in the design of laws, regulations, and cleanup measures to protect our environment. Theses biologists will continue to play a role in our society as stewards of the environment.

Work Environment

The working environment may vary for a marine biologist from one day to the next. Most marine scientists maintain a laboratory where they can conduct their observations and experiments. They may spend their whole day in this lab or they may use it only part of the time. When not in the lab, marine biologists work outdoors. Their day can be dictated by such things as the weather or by the animals they study.

Marine biologists may travel to outside sites to handle certain aspects of research or experiments directly. Marine biologists may be called upon for marine-animal rescue missions, such as after oil spills, to which they may have to travel. They may present their findings at conferences or workshops. This is usually not a job that involves a lot of stress, and the benefits may include the possibility of working outdoors in attractive locations.

On the Job

  • Develop and maintain liaisons and effective working relations with groups and individuals, agencies, and the public to encourage cooperative management strategies or to develop information and interpret findings.
  • Program and use computers to store, process, and analyze data.
  • Collect and analyze biological data about relationships among and between organisms and their environment.
  • Study aquatic plants and animals and environmental conditions affecting them, such as radioactivity or pollution.
  • Communicate test results to state and federal representatives and the general public.
  • Identify, classify, and study structure, behavior, ecology, physiology, nutrition, culture, and distribution of plant and animal species.
  • Prepare environmental impact reports for industry, government, or publication.
  • Represent employer in a technical capacity at conferences.
  • Plan and administer biological research programs for government, research firms, medical industries, or manufacturing firms.
  • Research environmental effects of present and potential uses of land and water areas, determining methods of improving environmental conditions or such outputs as crop yields.
  • Review reports such as those relating to land-use classifications and recreational development for accuracy and adequacy.
  • Measure salinity, acidity, light, oxygen content, and other physical conditions of water to determine their relationship to aquatic life.
  • Teach and supervise students and perform research at universities and colleges.
  • Supervise biological technicians and technologists and other scientists.
  • Study basic principles of plant and animal life such as origin, relationship, development, anatomy, and function.
  • Study and manage wild animal populations.
  • Prepare requests for proposals or statements of work.
  • Cultivate, breed, and grow aquatic life such as lobsters, clams, or fish.
  • Prepare plans for management of renewable resources.
  • Develop methods and apparatus for securing representative plant, animal, aquatic, or soil samples.
  • Study reactions of plants, animals, and marine species to parasites.
  • Develop pest management and control measures, and conduct risk assessments related to pest exclusion using scientific methods.

Companies That Hire Marine Biologists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Chemicals from Earth's atmosphere are making their way down to the planet! Not in spaceships, but in rain. The acid rain can infiltrate ground water, lakes, and streams. How does acid rain affect aquatic ecosystems? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Imagine seeing waves glowing a beautiful blue color. The marine dinoflagellate Pyrocystis lunula is responsible for this magnificent phenomenon. Pyrocystis lunula is a bioluminescent organism—bioluminescence is the production of light by living organisms. But does this organism always glow, no matter what the conditions, such as how much light there is? In this biotechnology science fair project, you will investigate how altering this dinoflagellate's exposure to light and dark affects… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You might not know it, but a lake without algae would be a very dull place. If there were no algae, there would be no small animals feeding on the algae, and there wouldn't be any fish eating the small animals that eat the algae. You might conclude that since some algae is good, more algae is even better, but algae growth has a down side. If there is too much algae, they can deplete the oxygen in the water, killing off other species in the water. What is one culprit that leads to algal growth?… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The oceans are a precious natural resource, part of Earth's carbon cycle. But what happens if the oceans absorb too much carbon dioxide? Many scientists are concerned that the increased absorption of carbon dioxide is causing them to become more acidic. What impact does that have on the marine life? In this ocean science fair project, you will demonstrate ocean acidification and investigate the effect on the shells of marine life. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Many people routinely use fertilizer for crops, gardens, and lawns. What people don't know is that each time they apply fertilizer, the fertilizer seeps through the soil into the water table. This can eventually lead to the contamination of a local water source, like a stream, pond, lake, bay, or ocean. This is an especially big problem for agricultural practices that frequently use large amounts of fertilizer on fields that are connected by irrigation channels. The run-off of fertilizer… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that there is plastic in the ocean? It probably isn't too hard to imagine that some of the plastic that litters roadways, sidewalks, and parks finds its way into the ocean. So, how much do you think is in there? Hundreds of pounds of plastic? How about thousands of pounds? No one knows for sure, but estimates, based on scientific surveys, suggest the amount is in the range of millions of pounds of plastic! Of course, the ocean is big, over 300 million square kilometers, so… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You might know that lead can be toxic, and that you can get lead poisoning from eating or inhaling old paint dust. Lead is called a heavy metal, and there are other sources of heavy metals that can be toxic, too. Silver, copper, mercury, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium are all heavy metals that can be toxic in certain environments. In this experiment, find out if one common heavy metal, copper, can be toxic to an aquatic environment. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that when you use fertilizer in your garden, it can eventually reach a lake, stream, or pond? There are many different chemicals present in fertilizers. How will they affect the aquatic organisms in the ecosystem? In this science project you will get to find out! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you seen plankton? I am not talking about the evil villain trying to steal the Krabby Patty recipe from Mr. Krab. I am talking about plankton that live in the ocean. In this experiment you can learn how to collect your own plankton samples and see the wonderful diversity in shape and form of planktonic organisms. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
When you go to the beach, you may not know if the beach is natural or man-made. The popularity of sandy beaches prompted developers in the past to bring in sand to cover rocky shorelines and turn them into more popular sandy beaches. However, the actions of the tides, currents and waves carried the extra sand out into the reef, endangering the reef and the creatures living on it. You can use a water table to conduct experiments with sand movements and reefs. How is sand moved by water? How… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Harmful algal blooms occur when algae, which form the base of the ocean food web, grow in massive numbers and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. In this project you will learn how to use archived data from continuous monitoring stations on the Chesapeake Bay to study how water quality measurements (dissolved oxygen (DO), salinity, temperature, pH, turbidity, and total chlorophyll) change before, during, and after harmful algal blooms. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The sustainability of our ocean fisheries is a topic of concern for many, including environmentalists and fishermen who make their living on the bounty of the sea. It is important to use sustainable fishing practices so that our fisheries are not over-fished leading to a decline in productivity. Some states require fish markets to post information about their fish so that consumers can make informed decisions about which fish to buy. They post the type of fish (e.g., Coho Salmon), the source of… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever been to a tide pool during low tide? Some intertidal animals in the low tide zone are left in a tiny pool of water when the tides go out. Other intertidal animals that live in high tide zones may be left to dry out during low tide. How much time does each zone spend out of water during a tidal cycle? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered what life is like for different animals, and where it is that they roam? For example, how large is the area they live in, and why do they go to different locations? While we can set up cameras to watch animals that live on land, it can more challenging to see the lives of animals that live underwater, especially in the vast oceans. In this ocean science project, you will use satellite tracking data to learn about the activity patterns of harbor porpoises. How far do they… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Baby Beluga may swim in the deep blue sea, but the song does not mention how cold it is out there! Find out in this science project how a bit of blubber can be a useful adaptation when the water is ice cold. Brrrr! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
During metabolism, organisms experience physical and chemical changes. All animals need some way to exchange chemical waste generated during metabolism for fresh nutrients. One way that these metabolic chemicals are exchanged is during respiration, the process by which used carbon dioxide gas is exchanged with fresh oxygen and circulated throughout the body. How do organisms living underwater respirate? They use gills, which filter oxygen from the water and pass the oxygen into the… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Video games are entertainment, but like other such media (say Oscar-winning movies or award-winning books), they can also point out challenges facing people. In this science project, you will design and create a fishing video game that teaches the player about which fish are plentiful enough to catch and which fish are not because their population is declining. Maybe your game can help solve the problem of over-fishing and help sustain healthy fish populations. All while having fun of… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You can study hazards that affect coastal areas. What geological forces cause a tsunami? A tsunami (Japanese for 'harbor wave') is a wave generated by an undersea earthquake, landslip, or volcanic eruption. You can demonstrate what causes a tsunami by simulating an undersea earthquake with a water table. How does the depth of water effect the height of the wave? Do different slopes of bottom change the speed of the wave? Visit the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program to find out about… Read more

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