Career Guide

Marine Biologist

Emily Hanson  · Jan 25th 2023

Do you love everything to do with life in the sea? Would you love to be at the forefront of fighting environmental threat?

Marine Biologist

Marine biology focuses on the preservation of aquatic ecosystems, from oceans to saltwater rivers. It looks to protect and sustain marine life, assessing human impact and mitigating damage caused by human activities.

Biologist job

What is a marine biologist?

A marine biologist looks to preserve the aquatic ecosystem. They use up-to-date scientific knowledge and accurate preservation techniques to ensure marine life is protected for future generations.

Marine biologists could work in a variety of settings. These could be:

  • Research based: Assessing aquatic ecosystems and how well they are thriving.
  • Laboratory based: Conducting experiments.
  • In field research: Assessing oceanic habitats directly. Attached to preservation organisations or in academic university departments.
  • Working in charities or government: Offering policy-making advice or providing expert consultancy on decisions affecting aquatic life, both locally, nationally and internationally.


Your responsibilities as a marine biologist will depend on the field you work in. There are some common responsibilities across marine biology work, though.

These include:

  • Conducting field experiments on local, national and international marine populations, such as assessing water quality, species populations and the effects of human activities.
  • Collecting and analysing samples taken from marine populations to assess for various research foci such as pollutants and ocean composition.
  • Making assessments of the proposed impact of human activities, such as assessing how human populations are affecting local marine water supplies, and submitting these to decision-making bodies.
  • Conducting laboratory-based experiments on the effects of human activity on marine environments.
  • Providing consultancy to decision-making bodies when decisions are made that could impact aquatic life.
  • Offering consultancy and scientific expertise within preservation organisations, especially when supporting large-scale campaigns.
  • Sharing key information on marine preservation with the wider public, especially if your work is connected with charities or preservation organisations.
  • Teaching marine biology academic courses such as university degrees.
  • Undertaking academic research and writing reports to be published in academic journals or publications.
  • Attending conferences and seminars on marine conservation, potentially contributing to keynote speeches linked to your research expertise.


Your salary as a marine biologist will depend on the industry you work in. As your expertise can be lent to a variety of marine biology jobs, your pay will vary.

Marine biology is largely a graduate profession, so you will need a degree in the field to start your career.

The average marine biologist salary is around £38,000[1]. This will vary depending on the company you work within, as well as your location.

You could work in academia as a lecturing marine biologist or marine ecologist. Your salary, on average, will sit at around £37,000, depending on your level of seniority. Experienced and principal lecturers can earn in excess of £50,000[2]. Higher level research positions could earn more.

If you work for governmental preservation initiatives, your salary is set to a scale. Natural England pays specialists £26,224 - £33,399, while their highest paid principal advisers can earn £43,322 - £57,222[3].

How much do marine biologists make


Marine biology is largely a graduate profession, so you will need a degree in the field to start your career.

Courses relevant to working with aquatic life include:

If you aren’t certain you want to pursue work directly in marine biology, you could specialise at master's level. This would involve a more generalised biological science degree, then a specialised marine biology master's. Postgraduate study is also advantageous regardless of whether you specialise at undergraduate level, as many marine biology jobs are research-based and expect you to have research experience. You could specialise in a particular area of conservation or a particular form of marine life, building up your understanding of different research methods as you go. You could also study towards a research master's (MRes degree) specifically, if you want to focus on developing your research skills.

If degree study isn’t something you want to pursue. You could apply for a marine biology apprenticeship which will train you in technical areas of the field. Organisations such as the National Oceanography Centre offer technical apprenticeship programs.

Training and development

The majority of your academic training will come from your degree and/or postgraduate training. You will cover key academic information and understanding of marine life, as well as vital research methods which you are likely to use in your professional career.

Marine biology is a competitive field of study to work in.

Many graduates also go on to undertake PhD studies, especially if they hope to teach at university level. Some universities offer funded marine biology PhD programmes if you are willing to study within a particular area of marine biology that they focus on.

Your learning doesn’t stop at degree study, though. Many marine preservation organisations offer further training and development for marine biologists in practice. Examples include the Marine Conservation Society and the Marine Biological Association, though there are plenty of further organisations that specialise in specific areas or species. You could take additional training on research methods or a particular form of marine life relevant to your employed role. Some organisations have a political or campaign focus if advocacy and campaigning is something you would like to pursue further.


Your skills as a marine biologist combine academic knowledge with technical and practical research skills.

These include:

  • A robust working knowledge of marine life in the country you work in and internationally.
  • Specialist knowledge in any particular species or research practices you focus on.
  • A working knowledge of the typical research practices used to undertake marine research.
  • A commitment to preserving marine life for future generations.
  • Research skills, both practical and theoretical, to support hands-on research and record this in an accessible way for other marine professionals to utilise.
  • Ability to work well within a team, either on a large project or as part of a team of laboratory researchers.
  • Excellent people skills - your work is likely to incorporate working with individuals of all walks of life, including members of the public and individuals whose work coincides with marine life, such as fishing workers.
  • Excellent verbal communication skills for working alongside team members on large projects.
  • Excellent written communication skills for compiling reports following your academic research.
  • An ability to keep up to date with new research and developments within the profession.
  • Confidence to consult on large projects, such as governmental initiatives.
  • Excellent organisational skills for managing large marine research projects.
  • A strong ability to interpret various forms of scientific data and translate this into actionable strategies to improve or preserve aquatic ecosystems.

Marine jobs

Work Experience

Marine biology is a competitive field of study to work in. It’s key, because of this, to access some marine biology work experience in order to access the job market.

If you haven’t started studying yet, you could reach out directly to organisations offering placements. This would be highly beneficial to mention in your marine biology personal statement. Many not-for-profit organisations (NGOs) offer summer placement schemes for students. This could involve international travel and may have a cost attached, so it’s worth researching whether this is financially viable for you. You could also reach out to local governmental organisations or charities to see if they would offer shadowing opportunities.

A marine biologist looks to preserve the aquatic ecosystem.

If you are studying a marine biology degree, you could use your university contacts to access work placements or internships. You could ask your university professors if they know of any good internship schemes or voluntary work you could get involved in during the summer months. You could also consider choosing a university degree with a year in industry to access planned work placement opportunities in marine biology. Many universities also have marine biology societies, which could be helpful for spotting work experience opportunities or establishing contacts.

Career Prospects

Marine biology is a broad career. As a result, your career prospects are varied and can be tailored to your interests. A career in marine biology may require side-stepping between roles in order to advance. You may need to take on short-term contracts in order to upskill.

You could begin working as a marine biology researcher for a non-governmental organisation, then take on PhD study and move towards academic research. In this career route, you could aim towards principal lecturing or advanced research positions. You may need to take short-term positions on research projects in order to advance your career and access full-time, permanent positions.

Perhaps you are interested in working with charities that aim to improve marine populations in a particular area? You could work towards this by working in research roles and eventually applying for more consultancy and advisory positions. You could set up your own consultancy or work on a freelance basis, giving advice and guidance on best practices.


  • [1]Marine biologist salary in United Kingdom — Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  • [2]Lecturer average salary in United Kingdom, 2022 — Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  • [3]Working for Natural England — Retrieved 13 October 2022.

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