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Marine biologist

Study ocean animals, plants and ecosystems to increase our knowledge and understanding of biology and the environment.

Also known as: microbiologist, marine mammalogist, marine ecologist, ichthyologist, fishery biologist, biological technician

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About the job


Source: National Careers Service



Entry level





Entry level





Entry level




people are currently employed

High growth

700 more jobs in 5 years

These figures refer to this job and similar ones with comparable skills and qualifications. They only apply to Scotland. Source: Oxford Economics

A day in the life — marine biologist

What it's like

You would study ocean animals, plants and ecosystems to increase our knowledge and understanding of the environment, genetics, and animal or plant biology.

The ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and is the habitat of 230,000 known species, although much of the ocean’s depths remain unexplored. You could work on research projects to observe and better understand ocean animals, plants and ecosystems, projects to protect and conserve sealife or to develop and manage marine resources.

Marine life is a valuable resource for human beings, providing food, medicine, and many different raw materials. It also helps to support recreation and tourism all over the world.

It’s a very wide field to work in. You could choose to study microscopic organisms such as plankton or huge cetaceans - whales. Marine life includes fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates that rely on the ocean to survive. Or you could focus on studying the ocean’s plants, algae, fungi or coral.

There is also a huge variety of habitats where marine organisms live, from the very deep ocean, to shallow and brackish estuaries and marshes.

Depending on your area of research you might work in a laboratory or at sea; many roles will involve a mixture of both.

You would write up and publish the findings from your research. You might also present your findings at conferences or teach at a university.

Other areas of work are in conservation and sustainable management of the fish stocks or the marine environment.


Your hours would vary with each project. You may often have to work long hours at irregular times, particularly when carrying out field work.


You would have an indoor base in an office or lab. However your field work would be carried out outdoors. You might often be cold and wet. Swimming and scuba diving skills may be useful.


Depending on your specific area of work you may have to go abroad.

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Top skills

Skills are things you're good at. Whether you know what yours are or not, everyone has them!

It's useful to learn which ones are important in a job so you know the areas you need to brush up on. It can also help you work out if you're suited to a career.

Here are some of the skills you'll need to do this job:

  • understanding
  • analysing
  • taking initiative
  • sorting
  • attention to detail
  • researching
  • observation
  • problem solving
  • innovative
  • working with technology

Your skills are important

Our unique skillsets are what make us stand out from the crowd. Learn about each skill in depth and discover what employers look for in your applications and interviews.

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Getting in

Explore the sections shown for more information about getting into this career.

You might have qualifications which are not shown here but will allow you access to a course. You can compare your qualifications by looking at their SCQF Level. For more information about this, check out the SCQF website.

Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.

Colleges and universities will list subjects you'll need for entry to a course. Some useful subjects include:

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

  • Human Biology

  • Mathematics

  • Science in the Environment

  • Skills for Work: Laboratory Science

  • Skills for Work: Rural Skills

  • Foundation Apprenticeship: Scientific Technologies (Laboratory Skills)

  • Applications of Mathematics

You can get a head start in this career by doing a Foundation Apprenticeship in S5 and S6.

You'll get an SCQF level 6 qualification which is the same level as a Higher. You'll also learn new skills and gain valuable experience in a work environment.

Discover what's on offer at your school on  Apprenticeships.scot.

Entry to this job is highly competitive. Many marine biologists have postgraduate qualifications (SCQF level 11) or a doctoral degree (SCQF level 12) in a relevant subject such as marine biology.

You would need a degree (SCQF level 9/10) in a subject such as:

  • marine biology

  • biological science

  • conservation

  • ecology

  • environmental sciences

Most undergraduate courses ask for at least four Highers at B or above (SCQF level 6) some universities may require you to gain qualifications in one sitting.

With Advanced Highers (SCQF level 7) or a relevant Higher National Certificate (SCQF level 7) or Higher National Diploma (SCQF level 8), you may be able to enter the second or third year of some degrees.  

Some universities offer an integrated Master's (SCQF level 11) which combines a degree and masters qualification over five years. Entry is the same as degree courses.

Paid or voluntary work experience in a related field is useful.

Some jobs will require that you are a trained diver; you will need to pass strict medical tests prior to undertaking any diving training and pass regular medicals once qualified.

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