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Marine biology is the study of marine or saltwater organisms. Marine biologists study everything from single-celled bacteria to the blue whale and giant kelp. They are interested in a number of marine features, including the process of marine development, how organisms interact with one another and the ecosystem, and how organisms adapt to their environment. Marine biologists focus on increasing knowledge of the fluid environment and how marine organisms function today in order to predict how ecosystems will cope with large-scale changes such as global warming, overfishing, and pollution.
At a glanceImagine you are sitting at your lab bench staring through magnifying lenses at a small invertebrate lying in a specimen dish. You are a marine biologist and you found this little guy earlier in the day while diving in a shallow bay off the coast of Vancouver Island. What’s remarkable about this species of mollusc is that its regular habitat is hundreds of kilometres south of this bay, where ocean temperatures are significantly warmer. You have been studying this species of mollusc for 10 months now, making dozens of dives and spending countless hours in the lab gathering data to support your hypothesis that warmer ocean temperatures due to climate change are altering the distribution of this mollusc species. As a marine biologist, you are an expert on the aquatic organisms and fluid environment of this particular bay. You were surprised three years ago when you first spotted this mollusc species so far north and applied for a grant to study how and why it has made its way to Vancouver Island. You’ve hypothesized that climate change has resulted in warmer ocean temperatures in this region, which have made it possible for the mollusc to expand its habitat. A lot of your research has focused on gathering data and mapping trends to determine if local ocean temperatures have changed significantly in recent years, to the point where the coasts of Vancouver Island have become usable habitat for species typically found farther south. On your dives, you collect data on the distribution and abundance of the mollusc inside the bay, as well as gather specimens to take back to the lab. In addition to analyzing water temperature, you study the morphology of your specimens, looking for physiological adaptations that would allow them to survive in colder waters. When published, your research will contribute to the bank of scientific knowledge that records and predicts the effects of climate change on global ecosystems.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a marine biologist:
- Study the behaviour, evolution, distribution, and relationships among organisms in a marine environment.
- Use electronics and other instruments to measure the physical and chemical properties of water.
- Examine the biodiversity of benthic and pelagic organisms.
- Study the structure of marine communities and assist in the rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems.
- Take samples of marine organisms and conduct laboratory tests using equipment such as electron microscopes.
- Build mathematical models to estimate the distribution and abundance of marine life in specific places.
- Develop and implement long-term programs for monitoring environmental pollution, including developing protocols and monitoring environmental compliance.
- Provide assistance to fisheries management.
- Write grant proposals to fund research.
- Write scientific papers to report research findings and present results at conferences.
- Interact with students and the general public to educate and discuss concerns about marine issues, such as climate change and fishing.
Work environmentMarine biologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
- Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
- Drafting plans and models
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government departments, and the public, and presenting report findings to clients
- Writing scientific papers and presenting study results
- Conducting literature reviews and researching advancements in marine biology, and consulting with other biology professionals
- Deploying equipment from onboard oceanographic research vessels
- Servicing and testing equipment
- Conducting field experiments and recording data and observations
- Collecting organisms for laboratory research
- Building experimental equipment such as cages and flowmetres
- Identifying, classifying, and preserving marine organisms
- Conducting analytical research and laboratory experiments
- Processing samples
Where to workThere are a number of places marine biologists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Environmental consulting firms
- Marine science institutions and aquariums
- Conservation authorities
- Aquaculture firms, including fish and shellfish farms
- Private labs
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a marine biologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
- Marine Biology
- Aquatic Biology
- Environmental Science