A Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service Publication
VIMAS is a cooperative program between
the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program & the University of the Virgin Islands' Center for Marine and Environmental Studies.
Careers in Marine Biology
Marine biology is a broad professional field that includes the study of organisms that live
in and near the oceans. Marine biologists study the factors that affect these organisms,
including their habitats, ranging from coastal areas to the deep sea.
What do marine biologists do?
Icthyologists, fisheries biologists and some marine biologists focus their studies on the behavior, life
cycles and population dynamics of fish. Their work contributes to the protection of these vital food sources.
Other marine biologists work to control the spread of "foreign" or introduced species to areas where they
may threaten or even wipe out local or native populations of plants and animals. Marine biologists may
study the life histories and habits of manatees, whales, seals and other marine mammals, or of invertebrates
such as corals, crabs, barnacles or worms. Still others specialize in areas such as water quality and the
impacts of water quality on marine and coastal organisms.
In the area of marine ecology, scientists study coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, salt ponds, and
wetlands, as well as marine communities like coral reefs, sea grass beds, and deep sea hydrothermal vents.
Their work helps us to better understand both these habitats and the diverse forms of life they host. Some
marine ecologists study the effects of water quality on ecosystems, and experiment with techniques
designed to help restore areas that have been damaged by pollution. The results of such studies can be
used to formulate public policy and regulations that protect species and habitats vital to environmental and
human health. Marine ecologists may also assess environmental damage caused by phenomena ranging
from oil and chemical spills to hurricanes and overdevelopment.
S Careers in the field of marine biology require at least a bachelor's degree in biology or marine
biology. Due to the highly competitive nature of research positions in marine biology, advanced degrees
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and/or specialized experience are usually necessary.
High school students can prepare for a career in marine biology by completing as many math and science
courses as possible, including calculus, chemistry, physics, earth science and biology. Computer courses are
also very helpful. Math and science courses at the high school level (including advanced placement or
college courses where possible) will prepare students for more specialized courses in college.
At the undergraduate level it is not necessarily better to select a large school, or one with a large marine
science program. Often smaller schools provide greater opportunities to work closely with faculty on
research projects. When selecting a school, choose a size and location where you are comfortable. A
university that offers a wide variety of marine science courses will give you the best background, and will
help you to choose an area of specialization at the graduate school level.
Financial aid, work study and scholarships are often available to help pay the cost of completing the
bachelor's degree. Check with the college or university of your choice for more details. Most universities
offer scholarships, fellowships, assistantships or internships for marine science studies at the graduate level.
Careers in Marine Biology
Aquaculturalist- researches, designs and implements methods used in commercial production of fish and
Barrier beach manager identifies and studies barrier beach areas; develops systems to preserve these
beaches, and determines policies for barrier beach use.
Biochemist studies the chemical composition of living organisms; identifies biological compounds in the
ocean for use in treating illnesses affecting humans and animals.
Biological oceanographer studies marine plant and animal life and the ways in which pollution may affect
them; may work to extract food and pharmaceutical compounds from marine life.
Coastal zone manager identifies natural areas within the coastal zone; analyzes the ways in which changes
within the zone may affect coastal ecosystems; develops management criteria for land and water use in
Environmental planner assesses the long-range needs of the coastal zone and those who use it; attempts
to balance effective land use with conservation in order to prevent or mitigate environmental problems.
Fisheries scientist studies biological, chemical and physical factors affecting fish and shellfish populations.
Marine bacteriologist- identifies diseases in marine life and seeks means to control them.
Marine ecologist studies the relationship between marine organisms and their environment; examines the
impact of external influences such as rainfall, temperature or pollution on marine ecosystems.
Marine mammalogist- studies the behavior, reproduction, diseases, populations, migration and abundance
of marine mammals in their natural habitat, in captivity and after their death.
Marine microbiologist identifies and investigates bacteria and the diverse roles they play in the food chain
and marine ecosystems.
Physiologist studies the structure and function of organs, tissues and cells in marine organisms.
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Planktologist studies the distribution, abundance, ecology, taxonomy and population dynamics of (plant
and animal) planktonic organisms.
Salt marsh manager develops systems for rating the health of existing salt marshes to help set preservation
priorities; determines the possibilities for creating new and/or artificial marshes.
For more information, call or write: Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Services (VIMAS), University of the Virgin Islands Centerfor Marine and
Environmental Studies, No. 2 John Brewer's Bay St. Thomas USVI 00802 (340) 693-1392 or RR#2 Box 10,000 Kingshill, St. Croix USVI 00850
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