Marine Ecologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a marine ecologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

A marine ecologist performs research on aquatic systems, focusing on how water organisms interact with their environment. They can work in laboratories or out in the field, gathering data and experimenting. One main goal is to preserve life in waterbodies.

Essential Information

A marine ecologist studies the interaction between sea creatures and their habitat. He or she can also focus on the human population's effect on marine environments. Marine ecologists may find entry-level positions with just a bachelor's degree, but a graduate degree is necessary for independent research positions. Working as a marine ecology professor requires a doctorate.

Required Education Bachelor's degree for entry-level; master's or doctorate for advancement
Other Requirements Scuba diving certification is needed for some research; boating license may be needed
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all wildlife biologists and zoologists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $59,680 for all wildlife biologists and zoologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Marine Ecologist

Marine ecologists work as researchers, environmental consultants, and resource conservation managers. Some marine ecology projects seek to generate more knowledge and understanding of a particular region, while others are geared toward investigating the impact of humans and solving related issues.

For example, a marine ecologist may study how the coastal populations of crustaceans affect each other or how the movement and migration of tiger sharks influences both sea turtle behavior and sea grass nutrients. Other marine ecologists may develop ways to restore wetland habitats destroyed by pollution or implement sustainable practices for construction and engineering firms that work near waterways.

Duties of a Marine Ecologist

Marine ecologists gather and analyze data. Initial research may include consulting scientific journals, attending marine ecology conferences, and reading research papers. They may also conduct field research, which can involve the development of sampling methodologies and dives into marine environments to gather samples, observe animal behavior, or tag creatures to monitor migratory patterns. Data can also be collected in a laboratory setting from previously gathered samples.

After analyzing their collected data, marine ecologists compose reports, which can be published, used for product development, or submitted to regulatory agencies. They may also lecture or participate in public discussions related to their research.

Marine ecologists often perform fundraising activities, such as writing research proposals and grant applications. Professors and senior researchers also manage the work of research assistants and laboratory technicians.

Requirements to Become a Marine Ecologist

Completion of a bachelor's degree program may qualify individuals for entry-level positions, such as research assistants or laboratory technicians; however, career opportunities increase for graduates who pursue an advanced degree. Faculty positions at universities and senior research and development positions typically require a doctoral degree.

Relevant fields of study include biology, oceanography, environmental studies, and natural resource management. Geography, chemistry, physics, and statistics courses can help round out a marine ecology education. Some field research positions may also require scuba diving certification and/or a boating license.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, the employment of wildlife biologists and zoologists as a whole, including marine ecologists, is expected to grow by 4% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary earned by these scientists was $59,680 as of 2015.

Aspiring marine ecologists should earn a relevant college degree at minimum, though the exact discipline isn't specified. Many higher-level research positions require a graduate degree. Marine ecologists can perform both basic and applied research.

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