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Marine Sciences

Marine sciences explore the ocean and the organisms that live within it. Learn about the types of degrees offered, topics of study, employment outlook and info on salaries for related occupations.

Is Marine Science Right for Me?

Career Summary

Marine science is a broad discipline that draws from the fields of biology, chemistry and geology to study ocean systems and marine life, as well as the interactions between the oceans, atmosphere and land surfaces. Marine scientists typically focus in one or more areas within the field. You might study biological topics within the marine sciences, which include marine toxicology studies, marine mammal and coral reef biology, physiology of marine organisms and marine ecosystem studies. You could also choose to concentrate on physical science aspects of the field, like ocean circulation and current studies, ocean floor geology and marine aquatic chemistry.

Employment Options

Marine science careers are available in the public and private sectors. Many marine science researchers and assistants work for state or federal government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). You might also work for a university as a laboratory assistant or technician. Alternatively, you may find jobs in the consulting industry or with nonprofit organizations interested in marine ecosystems and policy. If you'd like to work in the area of education and outreach, you might consider a job in an aquarium, museum or high school. With an advanced degree, you could pursue a teaching and research career at a postsecondary institution. If you plan to conduct field research, you may need to become a certified scuba diver, which can open up other job opportunities, such as salvage diver or rescue diver.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

If you're interested in pursuing a career in the marine sciences, you can expect decent job prospects overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the employment of wildlife biologists, including marine scientists, would increase 5% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Geoscientists, including oceanographers, would see growth of 16%. Despite this growth, there may be competition for some jobs. As of May 2013, the median annual salary was $57,430 for wildlife biologists and $91,920 for geoscientists, also per the BLS.

How Can I Work in Marine Science?

Education

A variety of academic programs can prepare you for a career in this field. Marine science degree programs are offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. A program could cover the variety of marine sciences, or it could focus on a specific area within the field, such as marine biology, marine physics or oceanography.

Alternatively, you might also select one of the marine sciences as a concentration within biology or geosciences programs. If you would like to work within management and regulations, you could pursue a dual master's degree in marine sciences and marine policy. Most marine scientists hold graduate degrees; to conduct research, you'll likely need a Ph.D. in the field.

Additional Fields of Study

If you're passionate about a career related to the sea but don't want to complete a lengthy education, related associate's degrees are available in such areas as marine diving technology and marine science technology. Certificates can be earned in coastal and marine sciences, marine science conservation and marine biology, to name a few.

A marine sciences curriculum typically emphasizes subjects like biology, geology, chemistry, physics and global change. You gain a basic understanding of these principles and learn how they apply to marine sciences. Computer science, mathematics and lab courses will likely be included as well. If you pursue a graduate degree, your coursework will typically cover advanced topics like biogeochemistry, coastal watersheds and planktonic processes. Master's and doctoral degree programs further emphasize fieldwork and research in a particular specialty, culminating in a thesis or dissertation project, respectively.