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Marine Biologist


Description

Many people have romanticized notions about marine biologists and think they spend their days swimming with the dolphins. Yet, as a discipline of biology, marine biology is the scientific study of bacteria, plants and animals that live in oceans and on their shorelines. Marine biologists apply their knowledge in a wide variety of biology and ecology-related fields to study the living resources of the world's oceans and coastal seas.

Marine biologist look at everything from fish and plankton to snails and crustaceans. In tropical regions, shallow water environments support rich and diverse biological communities, including coral reefs, mangroves and sea grass habitats.

Marine biologists study the changes of organism life in the oceans and the interaction of organisms with each other and their physical environment. Their work has expanded into many new areas such as finding new food sources and other useful medical products from the sea. They also study the effects of pollution on plant and animal life in oceans, and research endangered species of marine plants and animals and their habitats. Some also work on environmental conservation, preservation and education. For example, scuba diving has destroyed many of our world's fragile coral reefs and marine biologists are trying to educate tourists on the dangers of destroying such vibrant and fragile ecosystems.

Much of the work of a marine biologist focuses on research and experimentation. They may test salinity levels, acidity, temperature, oxygen contents and other environmental conditions in relation to all living species in the ocean. For example, a marine biologist may study the effects of chemicals or oil spills released into oceans on animals and plant life. Marine biologists often publish the results of their research in scientific journals and sometimes present papers at scientific meetings and conferences.

There is hardly such a thing as a typical marine biologist. Due to the vast size of the sea and the millions of unknown species that exist, a marine biologist may perform a number of different things each day. For example, a marine researcher working on the behavior of mussels might scuba dive for animals in the morning, and bring them to the lab and observe them in the afternoon, collecting various types of data. Or one may go to the library and read journal articles by other scientists about a particular species and then do some statistical analysis of the data using a computer, write a proposal for new research, or go out in a small boat to do a plankton tow for clams. Other marine biologists might work aboard large research ships performing experiments or feeding and breeding whales and sea lions at an aquarium.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$29,260
 
Median Salary:
$47,740
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$71,270

  Interests and Skills  
Marine biologists must have an interest in marine life and everything that exists in the vast oceans that make up over 70 percent of our world. They have inquiring minds and generally portray a high level of enthusiasm for their work. They also need the stamina and endurance required for fieldwork.

Marine biologists are self-confident, creative, and have the ability and desire to think independently. Successful marine biologists have strong communication skills, are good problem solvers and enjoy working with equipment and instruments at tasks that require precision and details.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study the behavior, distribution, evolution or relationships of organisms that live in marine environments, including the deep ocean and shoreline areas
  • Study the effects of alterations in the marine environment
  • Assist in the rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems
  • Take samples of marine organisms and conduct tests in laboratories using complex equipment such as electron microscopes and computer-driven machines to collect and analyze data
  • Monitor water pollution by using techniques such as measuring the radioactive content of organisms
  • Use oceanographic instruments to measure the physical and chemical properties of water
  • Produce mathematical models to estimate the number and kinds of marine life in a specific place
  • Study the effects of light, temperature and nutrients on the growth of both plants and animals in the sea
  • Study aquaculture or the farming of fish and shellfish under controlled conditions
  • A typical day for a marine biologist will depend largely on their working environment. They can either found in an office, laboratory, aquarium, the seashore and at sea on research ships. They are sometimes away from home for weeks at a time, working outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions. They may also spend considerable amounts of time working with computers and microscopes. The physical requirements also vary considerably in this occupation. Office and laboratory work may require no significant lifting, yet fieldwork can be extremely demanding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Marine biologists with bachelor's degrees may be employed as technicians, biologists or educators in university research laboratories, industrial research centers, private companies such as seaweed growing companies, government research laboratories or marine stations, marine biology consulting companies, aquariums, zoos, non-profit environmental advocacy organizations, or eco-tourism companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
There are few openings in the marine biology industry, but advancements will often require graduate-level training. Some of these positions are associated with environmental protection or with conducting research. Very few marine biologists are employed in regions that are not on the water.

Many marine biology graduates start their careers working in aquariums or marine centers as animal attendants, cleaning the tanks and feeding the animals. With experience and initiative, they may advance to supervisory positions and eventually to the position of curator of the center. PhD graduates may conduct independent research or teach at the postsecondary level.
 

  Educational Paths  
The minimum educational requirement for marine biologists is a bachelor's degree in marine biology or a related discipline such as biochemistry, biology, botany, ecology, microbiology or zoology. Students are advised to select courses with the help of a faculty advisor if they are interested in a career in marine biology. Since marine biology is not a program offered at many schools, it is important that students do extensive research to find out what schools specialize in this area. A good place to start is any city on the ocean.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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