How to Become an Aquatic Biologist in the US

Aquatic biologists conduct research to study animals, plants and other living organisms that exist in water bodies. Unlike marine biologists who study organisms in salty waters, aquatic biologists focus on freshwaters. If you want to know what happens below the water surface in lakes, streams, ponds and oceans, then this is the career you need to pursue.

The work

The typical duties of aquatic biologists include;

  • Breeding aquatic animals to be used in research work
  • Studying the conditions that affect aquatic life, such as light intensity
  • Operating equipment and using appropriate methods to collect data
  • Analyzing biological data on aquatic life and preparing reports detailing their findings
  • Supervising biological technicians and training new aquatic biologists.
  • Publishing articles in aquatic biology journals and magazines.

Work environment

Like most biologists, aquatic biologist work 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday. They spend most of the time researching outdoors, mostly in swampy and wet environments (sometimes underwater), and later retreat to their offices to analyze the collected information.

While doing fieldwork, they are exposed to all types of weather conditions. As such, they need to wear hand gloves, overalls, boots and other protective clothing to avoid injuries.


Salaries for aquatic biologists vary with the level of job experience as shown below:


Annual pay

Starting aquatic biologists

$32,000 - $46,000

Experienced aquatic biologists

$46,000 – $61,000

Senior researchers

$61,000 - $81,000

Source: Payscale US

Education requirements

To get started as an aquatic biologist, you should have a bachelor’s degree in any of these fields;

  • Aquatic biology
  • Aquatic science

Because many entry-level positions require some hands-on work experience, it is advisable to find internships or work placements in local zoos and aquariums before graduating.

Important skills and abilities

To become a successful aquatic biologist, you should have:

  • Strong practical skills
  • Strong research skills
  • Good math and analytical skills
  • A good level of manual dexterity
  • Good communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills to work productively with other biologists
  • A detailed understanding of aquatic life
  • An awareness of workplace health and safety practices.

Career progression

After getting employed, you will receive training on staying safe and healthy when working outdoors. You should then start working towards higher qualifications. This is your best chance of advancing into senior research positions.

Therefore, you should pursue a graduate degree in aquatic biology, followed by a PhD.

It is also important to join professional bodies such as the Society of Biology to gain access to continuing career development opportunities, including training workshops, seminars and conferences. It is also helpful to attain the chartered biologist status.

Job opportunities

You will find work in:

  • Government agencies
  • Environmental societies
  • Learning institutions
  • Media firms
  • Consulting firms

After gaining vast experience, you can progress to teach in academic institutions or become a research journalist for publishing companies and magazines.

Check out the following sites for career opportunities:

  • New ScientistJobs
  • Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

In general, there will be about 1,000 new jobs for wildlife biologists in the US within the next eight years, according to the Bureau Labor Statistics. Evidently, aquatic biology is not a vibrant profession in terms of employment opportunities. To stand out among other biologists, you should focus on enhancing your scientific competence.