Skills Needed To Be A Marine Biologist

Last Updated on May 19, 2024 by Team College Learners

The term “marine biologist” or “oceanographer” brings about images of scientists working in labs with various machines for collecting samples in the sea. Although that is what you will see when you watch documentaries on marine life, that is temporary. A marine biologist studies plant and animal life in both salt water and fresh water. A few of the skills required to become a marine biologist include being able to scuba dive, have microscopes, have computers for data collection, know advanced biology skills.

Marine biology is a fascinating field that explores the diverse life forms that exist within our oceans and waterways. To pursue a career in marine biology, individuals will need a strong background in science, a degree in a related field, and relevant work experience. The requirements for becoming a marine biologist can vary depending on the specific position, but may include skills such as scuba diving certification, the ability to use GIS technology, and coding skills.

For those interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, it is important to meet certain admission requirements before gaining entry into a related degree program. Typically, individuals will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field such as biology, marine biology, or environmental science. Relevant coursework in subjects such as chemistry, physics, and marine ecology may also be required. Some programs may also require applicants to have completed certain prerequisite courses or have a minimum GPA.

When applying to universities for a marine biology program, it is important to carefully review the admission process for each institution. This may involve submitting a completed application, official transcripts from previous educational institutions, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement outlining the applicant’s interest in marine biology and related experiences. Some programs may also require applicants to participate in an interview or provide additional materials such as a research proposal or writing sample. It is essential to follow the specific guidelines laid out by each university to increase the chances of being accepted into a marine biology program.

What Does A Marine Biologist Do

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.

Marine biologists investigate all kinds of issues and problems. Here are some typical areas of concern:

  • 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, causing huge implications for biodiversity, ecosystems and threats to food security
  • Ocean acidification and warming oceans have resulted in significant levels of coral cover 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 and artificial fertilisers in farming has had serious consequences on food chains
  • Chemicals can cause ‘gender-bending’ and fertility problems in fish, shellfish and other aquatic organisms

On a positive note, marine biologists are able to 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 in order 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. The opportunity of doing a job that involves outdoor work (perhaps including fieldwork at sea) is one attraction. But don’t be misled into thinking it’s a soft option as the work may involve lengthy, routine fieldwork and one field trip can generate many weeks of laboratory-based analysis.

Obviously, the balance of time spent outdoors and in the lab varies from one job to another. Most jobs are in research, development and monitoring. You could be involved in pure research – mapping what species are present in a particular area, surveying the health of coral reefs or trying to better understand marine ecosystems through novel research projects. Or, you could work in applied research, using the results of pure research to solve practical problems and to aid industries based on marine life. There are also opportunities for consultancy work, for example, conducting environmental impact assessments, environmental audits or waste management studies on behalf of governments, oil companies and organisations involved in renewable energy etc. Laboratory assistants and technicians support professional marine biologists in the more routine aspects of their work. 

Job Description

Marine biologists have a many possible careers and can work in an exciting range of environments. For example, marine biologists work in field research, teaching, hydrology, science writing and universities.

Work environments can include everything from research vessels to aquariums and zoos to laboratories, classrooms and offices. An individual with the title “marine biologist” might be managing a wildlife preserve, compiling data and computer models, or lecturing a classroom full of university students.

What Skills And Personal Qualities Do You Need

A marine biologist needs:

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  • 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 – perhaps at sea

Marine biology is a popular career choice and there are more people trying to work in the area than there are jobs available. In order to put yourself ahead of other candidates, it is important that you make yourself stand out. You can achieve this by working on improving both transferrable soft skills and more niche technical skills specific to the marine biology sector, beyond that which you may have learnt in a higher education course. Key skills to develop include:

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  • Scientific writing skills – including both journalistic writing and science communications
  • Knowledge of policy and legislation in the marine sector
  • Wider socio-economic contexts and how they impact the marine sector
  • Applied maths skills – many marine biologists utilise advanced statistics
  • Presentation & public speaking skills
  • Leadership qualities
  • Project management

Marine biologists study how plants and animals affect their water environments, and how the environment affects the plants and animals. They study issues such as animal and plant distribution, food chains, reproduction and community behavior. While marine biologists may work at a local stream or in an office, their job can also take them to remote locations the world over. Interest in working with raw data is one quality marine biologists strongly require.

Personality Traits

Along with an appreciation of marine life, marine biologists must have scientific ability, an observant and questioning mind and patience. They are also precise and skilled at analyzing and interpreting data. Biologists are able to work alone and as part of a team, and have the stamina and physical fitness to work in demanding remote locations. Marine biologists need to like the outdoors, and performing repetitive work for scientific experiments. They must be strong communicators. But, most of all, marine biologists must like to think and have fresh ideas. Because working with data is so important, biologists require an aptitude for manipulating raw information in various ways to solve problems and questions.

Career Skills

Marine biologists acquire the appropriate math and science skills through education and experience and hone their communication skills, both writing and speaking. They must also have active listening skills, so they give full attention to what other people are expressing, without interrupting them.

Equipment and Technology

Knowing how to use specialized equipment and computers, software and other technology is vitally important to research scientists such as marine biologists. For example, they must use field collecting equipment, such as plankton nets for sampling plankton and bottom grabs for gathering bottom creatures. They must also use automated measuring equipment, such as salinometers to measure the salt level in water. In the lab, they use particle counters to count microorganisms in the water and oxygen meters to measure marine organism respiration. Marine biologist must be familiar with various research boats and ships, and they may need scuba diving skills along with underwater camera and video skills. Marine biologists frequently require robotic skills for handline Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs, which are used in place of manned submersibles.

What Does A Marine Biologist Do On A Daily Basis

A day in the life of a marine biologist will vary entirely upon their job. For example, a science writer’s day will look very different from that of a field researcher or manager of a wildlife preserve.

A field researcher marine biologist might devote workday time to the following:

Develop Study Concept

Conceive of and map out a concept for a study of marine animals.

List goals and parameters of study including what is to be studied, how long, how it will be studied, whether the animals will be in natural or controlled surroundings, how much the study will cost, and other specifics.

Collect Biological Samples, Specimens Or Data

How the data are collected will be determined by study parameters.

For marine biologists, sample collection may be underwater, collected over extended time periods.

Organizing Samples

Marine Biology - Specialty VDST at SUBEX

To manage the data, samples must be organized carefully according to study parameters. Marine biologists could be marking samples to show when they were collected, how they were acquired, what they are, and any other salient information.

Data Analysis

Biologists log the data they collect into computer systems and then engage in analyzing it. This can mean examining it to ensure it is complete, cleaning and correcting it, and modeling it with the goal of discovering useful information or suggesting conclusions.

Marine biologists are typically comfortable with desktop data analysis tools.

Lab Experiments

A researcher marine biologist will probably conduct a quantity of lab experiments. The goal will be to discover a fact or demonstrate a general truth.

The biologist will alter factors under controlled conditions to study the results. Experiments will be carefully documented and, if a fact is proven, repeated.

Checking Previous Experiment Results

Experiments can be ongoing, without immediate, obvious results. Marine biologists might be conducting many experiments at once.

Daily actions will include monitoring previous experiments and modifying them according to the study plan

Writing Research Papers, Reports

Scientists must communicate their findings effectively in order to demonstrate results.

Data driven research papers are vital to communicating findings and securing future funding for projects.

Presenting Data

Scientists are often expected to present their conclusions or the results of their experiments. Effective presentations will include illustrations, salient facts and conclusions.

Presentations can be to review boards, students and community groups.

Are You Suited for A Career As A Marine Biologist?

Personality & Skills

Advanced Learning Environment

An entry-level job as a marine biologist usually requires a bachelor’s degree in biology at a minimum.

Marine biologists must be able to succeed in college-level science course work.


Biologists must be able to observe and note even small changes in animal behavior, characteristics or appearances.

The must be able to document details at an exacting level.

Field And Outdoor Skills

Marine biologists perform much of their research work outside, in close proximity to bodies of water.

Marine biologists should be comfortable on and in water, know basic safety protocols, and be able to handle research equipment and tools.

Work environments may require periods of relative isolation, irregular schedules, and long hours.


Biologists must be good communicators. Their work may require them to write scientific papers, speak to policy makers, the public and to students.

Additionally, they may need to explain scientific data in terms non-scientists can understand.

Analysis & Assessment

Biologists must be able to understand raw data, create models and research protocols, and draw conclusions.


Marine biologists can make a good living, but are not paid higher than other highly educated professionals.

Field researchers especially may work long hours, spending significant quantities of time away from home, and even without human contact.

Certifications & Proficiency

The title “marine biologist” can apply to so many jobs, there is no specific certification required to use it. However, to obtain most entry-level jobs, a bachelor’s degree in biology is generally considered the minimum degree necessary.

To advance in the profession, and secure higher level positions, a master’s or doctorate are needed.

  • Entry-level job: Bachelor’s in biology or marine biology
  • Teaching, consulting: Master’s, marine biology
  • College-level teaching, independent research leader: Doctorate (PhD), marine biology

It should be noted that an advance degree in biology is not a sure investment in job security.

Marine Biologist Salary

Working as a marine biologist typically requires as least a master’s degree. Those with only bachelor’s degrees typically land non-research jobs such as lab assistant. Aspiring marine biologists should first attain an undergrad degree in a general science such as biology or zoology. Specializing in marine biology typically takes place in graduate school, during coursework for master’s and doctorate degrees. People aiming to become college professors typically have PhDs. in the field. As a small field, marine biologist jobs can be hard to find and the salaries are in the average range. The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes marine biologists with other types of biologists who earn a median annual salary of $76,690 per year or $36.87 per hour, as of May 2017. Salaries range from around $42,990 to over $121,360. Level of education factors into income earning power.

Marine Biologist Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More | Marine biology  jobs, Marine biology, Biologist

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