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Marine BiologistAlternative titles

Kaimātai Koiora Moana

This job is sometimes referred to as:

Marine Ecologist
Freshwater Biologist
Fisheries Scientist
Aquatic Biologist

Marine biologists study plants and animals that live in sea water, and their relationships with each other and their environment.

Contact us

Call us on 0800 222 733


Pay for marine biologists working in government research organisations and universities depends on their qualifications and experience.

  • Marine biologists with Master’s degrees usually earn around $55,000-$75,000 per year.
  • Senior marine biologists, who usually have PhDs, may earn $76,000-$94,000.
  • With more responsibility and experience, pay could rise to about $130,000 a year or more.

Marine biologists working in the private sector may earn more than this.

Source: Landcare Research & Universities New Zealand, 'University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration', 2012.

What you will do

Marine biologists may do some or all of the following:

  • observe marine plants and animals in their natural environment
  • study the impact of pollution on marine life
  • identify, classify and preserve different types of marine life
  • estimate population growth and life expectancy
  • plan and run field studies and experiments
  • use computer modelling techniques to predict future events in the marine environment
  • report the results of their studies in papers for science journals and in commercial reports.

Freshwater biologists do similar work, except that they study plants and animals living in rivers, lakes and ponds.

Skills and knowledge

Marine biologists need to have:

  • knowledge of marine science, biology, and chemistry
  • research skills
  • maths and computer skills
  • writing skills, for writing reports and for publications.

Working conditions

Marine biologists:

  • usually work regular office hours, but they may also work longer hours when doing fieldwork
  • work in offices and laboratories, and they also work on boats, at sea, or in isolated coastal areas in all weather conditions
  • travel to field study sites, and may travel around the country or overseas to attend conferences or training.

What's the job really like?

Drew Lohrer - Marine Biologist

Drew Lohrer
Myth number one – marine biologists work with large animals only

"Some people think we work only with dolphins or whales, but it’s not always large animals like that. I mainly work on creatures that live on the sea floor. I focus on sea urchins, shellfish and worms, trying to understand their roles in the ecosystem."

Myth number two – marine biologists work in glamorous environments

Though the work is important, it's often done in an unglamorous environment. "When I dive, it’s mostly in low-visibility conditions, and my world view is often a patch of mud! However, I do get to go to exciting places like the Antarctic to study coastal systems. It is surreal diving there – the water is crystal clear and the types and amounts of animals you see are just astounding."

Myth number three – marine biologists get to dive all the time

"I don’t get to dive a lot of the time. But, there’s no monotony because I do different things all the time. Within a year, I might write proposals to get funding for what I want to do, then do fieldwork and perform experiments. Finally, I would analyse the data and write up my findings."



Marine biologists with a Masters usually earn
per year
Those with PhDs and several years' experience usually earn
per year
Source: Landcare Research & Universities New Zealand, 'University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration', 2012.
Candida Savage looking through a microscope

Candida Savage studying the impact of pollution on a specimen

Candida Savage altering some wires under a lamp

Marine biologists spend some time in laboratories

Updated 5 May 2014