Biological Oceanography and Marine Biology

Explore degree programs related to biological oceanography or marine biology, and read about undergraduate and graduate programs in these subjects. Get info on careers in this field, employment outlook and salaries.

Is Biological Oceanography and Marine Biology for Me?

Career Overview

As a marine biologist or biological oceanographer, you'd study the lives and behaviors of sea creatures and plants, as well as how the ocean's environments and ecosystems affect them. Your interest might be purely scientific, or you may want to discover ways to use the ocean's water, energy and sea life in sustainable ways.


Many marine scientists specialize in a particular animal, geographic area, behavior or type of ecosystem. For instance, you might study the migratory patterns of different types of sea turtles, the oceanic distribution of phytoplankton or the commercial management of crustaceans in the Pacific Ocean.

You could also focus on comparing the ecosystems of the ocean's floor, mid-range and surface zones. Molecular biology is a closely associated science, and explorations of the cellular and molecular realms of sea life are at the forefront of marine research. Marine biologists and biological oceanographers are employed by state and federal governments, aquariums, universities and research labs, as well as consulting firms and museums.

Salaries and Employment Outlook

If you want to work in these professions, you'll want to keep in mind that the job market is very competitive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment opportunities for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including marine biologists, would increase by 5% between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than average ( Although marine biologists might experience employment growth, it is a relatively small profession so job opportunities would be limited.

The BLS reported that in 2013, wildlife biologists, including marine biologists, earned a mean annual income of $62,610. Other types of biological scientists received $75,160 in average wages that same year.

How Can I Become a Biological Oceanographer or a Marine Biologist?


You can find programs in marine biology and biological oceanography at all academic levels, from associate's to doctoral degrees. In addition to subjects like biology, molecular biology, ecology, oceanography and geology, you'll find that physics, math, chemistry, calculus and statistics all play a vital role in understanding populations of organisms and how they interact with their ocean environment. Writing and computer skills are also important.

Undergraduate Programs

You can become a research assistant or lab technician in marine and ocean sciences with an associate's degree in marine biology and oceanography. In addition to taking courses such as marine botany, geological oceanography and microbiology, you might have the opportunity for hands-on learning aboard a research vessel.

A bachelor's degree in marine biology can prepare you for marine policy and ocean management jobs, as well as for graduate school. Courses initially focus heavily on chemistry, physics and general biology before honing in on topics such as marine microbiology, biochemistry and invertebrate biology, along with coastal environments and fish genetics. Some schools have student societies, such as the Student Oceanographic Society, to enhance learning and provide networking opportunities.

Graduate Studies

If you want to work as a researcher or professor at universities and government agencies, you'll need to attend graduate school for a master's or doctoral degree. Some research areas might be physical oceanography, coastal management, environmental chemistry or marine phytoplankton. Internships for practical experience and a thesis would be expected.

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