How Much Money Does a Marine Biologist Make?

How Much Money Does a Marine Biologist Make?
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Marine Biologist Job Description

Biological scientists study living organisms and their relationship to the environment to gain a better understanding of life processes and apply such knowledge to develop new products or processes. Marine biologists and oceanographers specialize in the study of aquatic life and ecosystems. They apply knowledge of molecular biology to research and analyze biochemical processes that take place inside the living cells of mostly salt-water organisms.

Practical applications of a marine biologists range from identifying the threats posed to underwater marine and plant life by environmental changes such as global warming and its implications on the food chain, to analyzing how the feeding and burrowing activities of sediment-eating animals such as marine clams and worms affect the environment by decomposing organic matter, and more.

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Career Opportunities

A career in marine biology requires opting for marine biology specialization in graduate school, and undertaking a Master’s degree. This qualifies one to work as a technician or teach high school students. High paying and glamorous jobs such as field research, employment as officer in an environment protection agency, and teaching at a university requires a Ph.D, which takes about six years after the completion of a two-year Master’s degree.

Marine biologists undertake field research or teaching, and most do both. The major employers include government, schools and universities, consulting firms, and research labs. The major employers are the federal government, and the Office of Personnel Management offers a lists of many of the vacancies.

Salary Levels

Now, on to the question–how much money does a marine biologist make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates median wages of all biologists at $31.98 hourly and $66,510 annually in their May 2009 survey. The bottom 10 percentile earned $17.67 an hour and $36,750 a year, the bottom 35 percentile earned $24.24 an hour or $50,420 a year, and the top 10 percentile earned $48.36 an hour and $100,580 a year.

Marine biologist salary depends on years of experience, the location of employment, and the employer.

Average entry-level salaries for qualified marine biologists joining consulting firms, and those teaching biology at high schools range from $35000 to $40000 a year. Average salary for assistant professors in universities range from $45,000 to $50,000 a year, and average salary for professors range from $65,000 to $90,000 a year.

One major factor that decides a marine biologists’ salary is experience. Marine biologists with less than one year of experience have a starting salary of about $33,000 a year, those with two to five years of experience can earn $45,000 to $57,000 a year, and those with more than five years of experience earn about $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Senior marine biologists with about 15 to 20 years of experience earn in excess of $100,000 a year.

Another major deciding factor in all marine biologist salaries are grants. Apart from the government, the major employers are the many large, elite, and small firms engaged in research, and very often, the government or large private sector corporations fund such firms. Salary in such firms depends on the marine biologist writing successful grant proposals.

Many people consider marine biology as an exotic branch of science and associate the work as exciting and glamorous. The reality, however, is that the job of a marine biologist is hard work and the competition intense, with many applicants chasing the few available grants and plum job postings. Networking and contacts plays a major role in landing good jobs and grants. It takes many years of painstaking perseverance to attain the level of excitement and glamor one associates with the profession.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11. “Biological Scientists.” Retrieved 31 December 2010
  2. JobEmploymentGuide. “Marine Biologist Salary.” Retrieved 31 December 2010
  3. BioScience Careers. “Marine Biologists.” Retrieved 31 December 2010.