There are over 20,000 different species of organisms living in marine environments, and more are discovered each year. The job of studying and understanding these diverse ocean organisms belongs to marine biologists. Like other types of scientists, marine biologists use structured scientific methods and laboratory research to gain insight into how organisms live, and how these creatures interact with our environment.
The job of all biological scientists, including marine biologists, is to study the relationship between living organisms and the the environment in which they live. Marine biologists, also known as aquatic biologists, focus their research on understanding animals, plants, and micro-organisms that live in water environments. A large amount of the research conducted by marine biologists centers on the study of biochemistry and the processes that occur on the molecular level of living cells. In order to gain knowledge, marine biologists use two types of research. Basic research does not have a specific intent, but is merely designed to increase the broad understanding of how a particular organism lives. Applied research, on the other hand, is intended to solve a precise problem or answer an exact question.
Biologists, including those that specialize in marine organisms, are typically required to hold a Ph.D. degree in biology or a closely related field. The educational path for marine biologists begins at the undergraduate level, where students take courses such as physics, biology, and chemistry. Because modern biology relies heavily on computers, future marine biologists are usually encouraged to take advanced computer courses as well. After completing a bachelor's degree, students typically expand their understanding of biology and other sciences by taking these courses at the master's degree level. Many universities offer specialized master's degrees for students who wish to pursue marine biology. Following this degree program, students must apply for and be accepted into a Ph.D. program. To earn their doctorate degree, individuals must demonstrate their ability to conduct independent research, both in the field and in the lab.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment for all biological scientists is predicted to increase by 21 percent between 2008 and 2018. While the specialty of marine biology is projected to also expand, the BLS states that marine biology jobs will be very competitive due to relatively small size of this field and the high number of interested students. In order to be competitive for jobs in the small field of marine biology, students should obtain a Ph.D. degree and gain as much biological research experience as possible. By pursuing high levels of experience and education, prospective marine biologists can set themselves apart and gain the best chances in this competitive field.
According to the BLS, the median salary for all biologists, including marine biologists, was $55,290 per year in 2008. The top 10 percent of biologists earned over $90,850 annually. The career website Salary.com reports that the average wage for a marine biologist in Miami, Florida was $44,310 in 2011. The same website reports that this salary is an estimated $43,077 per year on the other side of the state in Jacksonville.