How to Become a Marine Biologist in the US

Marine biologists study life in the oceans which cover 70% of the earth's surface. Learn how to become one with our guide.

Marine Biologists deep sea snorkeling conducting research

Marine biologists study life in the oceans which cover 70% of the earth's surface. They study the distribution, abundance, development and interactions of marine organisms. They are also concerned with factors that pollute the marine environment and are often involved in advocacy, awareness and sustainability campaigns to protect marine life. There are many specializations from which you to choose from in marine biology.

What does a marine biologist do?

Their common tasks and duties include:

  • Venture into seas and oceans to observe marine life and their patterns of behaviour
  • Conduct analysis on the data collected during their ventures to promote understanding about these plant and animal marine species. They then prepare reports on their findings for publishing in the interest of public knowledge, conservation and sustainable use of resources
  • Conduct research and controlled experiments into specific aspects that affect marine life distribution and abundance such as currents and temperatures
  • Study the impact of human activities such as trawling and trophy hunting as people do with sharks, with a view to shaping policies on marine conservation
  • Identify, classify and document the various types of marine life to promote understanding of this still vastly unexplored sphere

Skills and qualifications

  • A Bachelor's degree in marine biology wherein you will undertake courses such as biology, chemistry, oceanography, marine vegetation, invertebrate zoology, psychology ecosystems and ecology is the first step to becoming a marine biologist. There are numerous specializations in marine biology including biotechnology, toxicology, aqua-culture and micro-biology. You should choose an institution that is recognized and accredited for your chosen specialization
  • You will also need work exposure which you can obtain through internships and attachment. In many cases, you will get hands-on experience by volunteering to work in a team that is currently on a project. Be sure to get written recommendations to backup your future job applications as you are most likely to get a job through word-of mouth referrals
  • Furthermore, since research is a significant component of the job, it is advisable to obtain a Masters degree to enhance your employability and also to diversify your career prospects. A PhD qualification will enable you to head research expeditions and lecture thus bolstering your capacity in the profession
  • You will also need to join a professional society such as the American Academy of Underwater Sciences to expand your networks and meet other professionals in the field. Membership also lends you additional credibility in this unique profession and is a good way to stay up to date on the latest developments, issues and findings
  • When you venture into the ocean to conduct your work you will not only need to learn how to use scuba diving equipment, but there is an array of other technology and equipment that marine biologists need to know how to use. This includes underwater cameras and documentation equipment, altimeters, sonar equipment, GIS systems to map and track your position within the ocean and satellite tracking equipment to be attached to the animal species you are studying
  • You will also need stamina because not only does the work involve diving to depths but you might have to do so several times and spend long hours out in the ocean just to get the information you need


Entry level marine biologists are not high earners but the salary increases with better qualifications, specialisation and a reputation for dedication and excellence. Annual salaries are:

Entry level


Mid career




Work environment

Marine biologists split their time between the ocean where they conduct their fieldwork and the laboratory where they analyze their findings. The amount of time spent in each varies depending on your specialty. For example, toxicologists spend most of their time in the labs while zoologists and aqua-culturists are often out in the field. From time to time marine biologists attend conferences to present their findings and to advocate for various causes.

Career prospects

This profession is ideal for those who are fascinated by the ocean and have a passion for the marine life contained therein. It is initially not a highly paying job but is extremely satisfying for those with an interest in the field as they are more likely to actively seek out career growth opportunities. In view of the increasing clamor for environmental conservation to stem climate change, the demand for marine biologists and especially those with a PhD is expanding, offering a positive job outlook for the foreseeable future.


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