What is marine biology?

If you fancy yourself as the next Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle or Steve Zissou, then you should probably find out more about marine biology!

Marine biologists are the clever people that plunge below the surface of the ocean in order to explore, research and investigate the many organisms that can be found in the marine environment.

If you’ve ever seen The Life Aquatic you will know that this line of work is incredibly challenging and exciting. Who knows? Perhaps you will discover a new species, like the Jaguar Shark!

What does marine biology involve?

The world’s oceans are vast, unfathomable, fascinating and intriguing. It’s often said that we know less about our oceans than we do about outer space. Marine biologists are trying to redress that balance!

The primary aim of the marine biology profession is to increase our knowledge and understanding of the oceanic environment and the creatures and plants that can be found within it.

The multitude of organisms that live in our seas are not only interesting, they are incredibly important: they are a source of food, contribute heavily to the circulation of oxygen, and even help to regulate the world’s climate! Coral reefs are especially important. However, these marvellous organisms are consistently suffering from disease, coral bleaching and other physical damage caused by human activity.

The research studies which marine biologists carry out, therefore, have a more pressing function. These guys investigate the hazards that are having a detrimental effect on the survival of marine organisms. Essentially, their hard work helps to sustain oceanic ecosystems, which will allow fish, coral and other organisms to flourish for many years to come.

Marine biologists study all kinds of species; from algae, coral and parrotfish, to sperm whales, sharks and sea snakes. They might conduct their studies in shallow water just off the coast, around coral reefs at 20 metres below sea level, or in the world’s deepest, darkest areas of the ocean, such as the Mariana Trench.

If you pursue a career in this area, you might find yourself working in laboratories from time to time, but you might also be scuba diving, exploring the ocean from the comfort of a submarine, or remotely controlling underwater exploration vessels.

You will most likely be employed by academic research institutions, environmental NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations), conservation charities or government departments. You could be working in the UK or you could be working in far-flung destinations across the world, such as Australia or the Bahamas.

What do marine biologists do?

Marine biologists will usually split their time between working in laboratories and working out in the field. However, the really exciting times are when you’re out on the boat with your BCD (buoyancy control device) strapped on and your regulator in your mouth, ready to descend under the water and explore a dive site!

Okay, not all marine biologists actually scuba dive, but the majority do and this will be an essential part of your research activities if you become a marine scientist. You might be conducting all kinds of investigations. For instance, you might be counting fish using the Rover Diving Technique (RDT), you might be taking physical samples for testing in the lab, or you might be making coral reef disease assessments. Alternatively, you might be studying the behaviour of fish and oceanic mammals in their natural habitat.

You will be recording your findings using a dive slate and a pencil or more high-tech devices. Once you have finished your investigation, you will either be writing up the data you collected or testing the samples you accumulated in a laboratory.

Your final step would be to present your findings to members of the public, clients and influential organisations. You might even be delivering presentations at environmental conferences, workshops and events. Then it’s all about getting back out there and conducting more exciting research!

The majority of marine biologists will study marine biology or oceanography at university. It’s an incredibly competitive line of work to get into with a great deal of complex technical responsibilities. Consequently, a relevant degree is pretty much essential for access to these professions. Alternatively, you could do another scientific degree at undergraduate level and do an MSc in marine biology to get your foot in the door.

It would also be a good idea to develop other niche skills, such as boat maintenance and scuba diving. Indeed, it might even be a good idea to get your official PADI diving qualifications.

Eventually, if you get tired of active field-based research, you could move into academic lecturing or act as an environmental consultant to fisheries and aquacultural companies.

So, if this hasn’t made your head swim, and you fancy diving headfirst into a career in marine biology, immerse yourself in this to see what it takes!

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