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What Is the Difference Between Aquatic Biology & Marine Biology Majors?

by Kate Prudchenko

The biological sciences cover the whole range of life on earth and have applications from pharmacology to computing. Because of the breadth of the field, many universities offer majors or concentrations in particular areas of biology. Two related areas of concentration are aquatic biology and marine biology. Both of these majors deal with organisms that live in water, but while marine biology focuses on life in the oceans and seas, aquatic biology focuses primarily on fresh water systems like lakes and rivers.

Aquatic Biology Requirements

A bachelor’s degree in aquatic biology shares a large number of classes from programs in general biology and marine biology. Students are required to take courses in introductory biology, chemistry and physics, as well as statistics or another mathematics course. Generally, what sets an aquatic biology major apart are the elective courses, such as freshwater ecology, wetland plant communities and freshwater invertebrate zoology. These classes sometimes involve laboratory components that expose students to proper techniques for working with living freshwater organisms.

Aquatic Biology Careers

Graduates with an aquatic biology major have a variety of career options they can choose from after college. With a state teaching certificate, they can teach primary or secondary school biology classes, or they can go on to a graduate degree in biology and do research or teach in a university. Other options include working with private companies or government agencies to develop and write environmental impact studies, which estimate the changes to aquatic life stemming from residential, commercial or industrial development. Aquatic biologists also work in the field as fisheries experts, helping to manage freshwater fish stocks and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Marine Biology Requirements

Marine biology degree programs resemble other biology degrees in the basic prerequisite and core requirement classes. Courses like introduction to cell biology, principles of chemistry and statistical methods are common in all biology degrees. In the upper-division and elective coursework, students have the opportunity to focus on relevant marine biology courses like oceanography, biology of coral reefs and biology of the crustacea, along with field or laboratory work in marine biology under the supervision of a professor.

Marine Biology Careers

The oceans are, in large part, an international space, and marine biologists have the opportunity to work with international institutions and United Nations agencies that develop policies and recommendations for the management of the oceans. Graduates of marine biology programs often work on teams doing research on marine ecologies and organisms, and these projects often take them all around the globe on multi-year trips. Many graduates also pursue advanced degrees such as master’s and doctorates, and work in the field by leading their own research teams or teaching at universities.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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