If you’ve ever had to undergo one of those torturous exercises as a kid, where your teachers make you choose which profession you’d like to enter when you’re older, chances are you or a lot of your peers chose marine biology. As children, the vague idea of working in this branch of biology brings up vague images of aquariums and the cool marine organism within them.
However, marine biology is a discipline that covers much more than the study of sea creatures. It is a field that covers everything about the biological processes of sea plants and animals. These biologists work in a vast domain, in everything from ecology to oceanography, and participating in laboratories, fisheries and governments.
If you’re interested in learning more about what exactly marine biologists do, we’ve provided a guide detailing their tasks, jobs in the field, and how to study for the science if you’re interested!
What is Marine Biology?
To understand marine biology as a discipline, it is important to know the timeline of general biology itself. While the science of biology stretches as far back as antiquity, the branch of aquatic biology is a much younger field of study.
In the 19th century, biology was mainly concerned with the expansive and painstaking task of the collection and classification of all mammals, insects, and reptiles that roamed the earth. This, of course, was were we saw the birth of marine science, where efforts to catalogue sea creatures eventually expanded to include their preservation and capture for study.
While it’s hard to imagine 19th-century scientists having the capability to capture many of the sea animals we see today in aquariums, it was their exact struggle that led to the incredible advancements in technologies for the collection and examination of animals, plants and water.
With more information came more curiosity about the exact role that marine ecosystems played on the behaviour of ocean animals. These inquiries into the ecological role of marine environments on the animals that lived inside them led to the development, in the 20th century, of disciplines like oceanography and ecology. Intensive research was applied to sea life, with the goal of understanding the relationship between marine life and its environment.
From the end of the 20th century onward, the advancements in camera and computer technology has led to a better understanding and expansion in everything related to marine life. Underwater cameras and submarines made it possible to go and record where no human had ever gone before. Today, marine biology is not just concerned with the oceanic, but in fact everything that depends on the oceans and rivers of the earth.
This, of course, includes humans. The most notable example of how marine biology penetrates our daily lives can be found in global warming. If you’ve been following the news, it is likely that you have seen the infamous photographs of emaciated polar bears wandering the receding arctic, searching for food. These photographs, as well as the information about the arctic, and about polar life in general, is in part done by a network of marine biologists. These types of missions interact closely with ecology, the study of how organisms interact with their environment.
So what exactly do biologists do – specifically, when it comes to marine biology? Is it any different than general biology? We detail the possible jobs in marine biology below.
What are Marine Biology Jobs?
Biology is widely recognized as having three major branches: botany, zoology, and microbiology. All three of these branches are incorporated into the work of a marine biologist, depending on what their job title is. Here is a guide on some of the careers in marine biology.
No surprises here, science and research are inextricably linked. Not only that, but marine biology can offer dynamic and rewarding jobs in terms of research. While the work will be limited to aquaculture and a marine ecosystem – the good news is that the plants and animals these contain are nearly limitless.
Undertaking research in oceanic subjects can mean, for example, working with teams of researchers that study the deep sea. This often means collaboration between scientists of multiple fields, including mathematics and physics, because of the technology required to develop the submarine technology to carry out deep sea missions.
Researchers with a marine biology degree will be able to work in public and private sectors, studying the effects of farm fishing, pollution, toxicology, and even pharmaceuticals.
This field of marine biology combines the knowledge of marine biology with the creative forces of the artist and project manager. Curators of aquariums or exhibits often work as a liaison between museums and researchers – which means that it requires both the background of a scientist and the interests of communications and business.
While this sounds like a narrow field, it is actually quite broad. Everything from designing temporary exhibitions to being in charge of the maintenance and feeding of live animals on display. Jobs in this field can also involve research – which means that it can be very flexible for people who enjoy interdisciplinary work.
This can also mean being in charge of taking care of marine plants, connecting aquatic science with the field of botany.
Education and Government
Careers involved in the education and government sectors aren’t necessarily exclusive to teaching and advocate positions. If you are interested in being both a scientist and an educator, you can choose everything from being involved in science journalism to being a wildlife tour guide.
Governmental work is not strictly limited to work in advocate groups. It can also mean becoming deeply entrenched with informing policies on conservation and maintenance to both public and private consulting firms with fields like environmental biology.
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To be an oceanographer means to have a vast understanding and interest in the ecosystem of the ocean and seas. Biological oceanography can mean being involved with helping the marine environment through conservation biology, leading a research project into the ocean’s biodiversity, and studying the biochemistry of marine mammals.
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Going further, oceanographers don’t necessarily have to work with oceans. They can also be involved with work on fishes, plankton and microbial organisms in estuaries and rivers. It can also mean helping monitor ocean acidification or make new animal and plant discoveries. These kinds of missions can also take place both on a molecular level.
On average, taking part in these jobs does not require attaining a doctorate. In fact, many marine biologists only need a bachelors or masters degree, and their average salaries range from 28,000 to 71,000 pounds a year.
How to Study Marine Biology
Whether you want to become a marine biologist, are searching for an undergraduate or masters program, or simply need some extra help, here are some tips on how to study marine science.
One of the most important actions to take if you are struggling with marine biology is to check you’re your region’s education requirements. This can often give you insight on what terms and notions are particularly important, especially when you might not have a clear understanding of that from just your syllabus. This is especially important with today's advancements in microbiology and bioinformatics.
If you’d like to pursue a bachelor or masters degree in marine biology, start off by identifying your interests. Because marine biology touches upon all three branches of the discipline, it is important to understand what your interests are beyond biology. This can include other such disciplines like chemistry, physics, political science, art, and geology.
Both a graduate and undergraduate degree in marine biology will probably involve some form of laboratory work. It is important to look at what sort of marine biology courses will be part of your curriculum, as well as the textbooks and other reading materials that will be involved.
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How Marine Biology is Helping the World
Being a biologist in the field of marine science can often mean helping marine organisms from humans themselves. In fact, one of the greatest example of the threats that humans have posed to marine life involves reefs.
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One of the greatest consequences on aquatic life has been a phenomenon called bleaching. Along the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia sits a 1,400 mile long coral reef that is often cited for its incredible biodiversity. Environmentalists and advocates for the reef have pointed at pollution and rising ocean temperatures as the cause for the mass death of the coral in the region.
Thanks to advancements in biotechnology and the scientific community’s presence on social media, marine biology has earned its place in the spotlight over the recent years. While these scientists work hard to protect the oceanic environments around us, much remains to be done on our part.
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