“The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish,” said famous French explorer, inventor, and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau, known for studying the sea and all of its vast lifeforms, and one of the most important pioneers, and activists, in marine conservation. If you are a lover of the ocean and all of the creatures it contains, you will likely want to pursue a career in marine conservation. As the effects of climate change continue to create unpredictable impacts, we need scientists, researchers, and specialists in marine conservation who can point us in the right direction and develop plans to protect and secure our oceans and their unique ecosystems.
Many different fields of study are poised and well suited to play an important role in this effort. Marine conservation, the study of marine life both plants and animals and their ecosystems, focuses on how to nurture, protect, and conserve them, by creating informed plans and strategies that will, hopefully, protect our oceans for future generations.
The Marine Conservation Institute explains, “Whether you live on the coast or far from it, whether you eat seafood or not, you and the future of all those you love depends on healthy oceans.” As the largest ecosystem on Earth, the oceans generate half of the oxygen we breath, and contain 97 percent of the world’s water, according to the Marine Conservation Institute. We source fish and many other animal products from our oceans. Not only providing a vital food source, oceans also affect our weather patterns and provide vital renewable energy in the form of tidal energy.
As the Marine Conservation Society writes, a degree in marine conservation allows you access to many different careers and job opportunities. There are many interdisciplinary opportunities in this field and here we highlight many excellent options for interdisciplinary studies in marine conservation. The fish are calling and you must dive under!
1. Marine biology
The most obvious course of study for a bonafide marine conservationist is marine biology. Future marine conservationists will want to have a good grasp of all plant and animal life that make their home in the ocean and seas. Marine biology allows student scientists and future conservationists the ability to more fully comprehend the complex nature of the plant and animal life in oceans. Marine Bio explains, “Life in the sea has been a subject of fascination for thousands of years. One of the most important reasons for the study of sea life is simply to understand the world in which we live. The oceans cover 71% (and rising) of this world, and yet we have only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding them. Scientists estimate that no more than 5% of the oceans have been explored.” Courses in marine biology offer the aspiring marine conservationist foundational knowledge that they will need to excel in this interdisciplinary field.
2. Ocean and coastal engineering
What do oceans and engineering have in common? Well, if your brain has penchant for the hard sciences and you are exceptional at applied mathematics, then maybe you should consider pursuing ocean or coastal engineering. An ocean engineer gets to combine both of these fields of study, and apply them in the real world to solve problems. “Ocean engineering is regarded as an integration of civil, chemical, electrical, and even the mechanical field. It’s coupled with the knowledge of how the oceans function. Ocean engineers are basically involved in the designing, building, testing, and refining of different equipment. All these instruments are functional in the ocean and are a subject to regular wear and tear,” says Marine Insight. This field, which involves designing and building structural and functional machines for use in the ocean, is one of the most exciting applied sciences careers in the marine world today.
...But, maybe you’re more interested in playing with the fish, getting close and intimate with them? If so, perhaps aquaculture could be for you! As defined by the National Ocean Service, “Aquaculture is breeding, raising, and harvesting fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. Basically, it’s farming in water.” Imagine managing sustainable schools of fish for harvesting, keeping in mind minimal impact on marine life and prioritizing healthy ecosystems. Aquaculture is vital for implementing healthy supply chains in a fast-paced market driven economy. This career is applied marine conservation hard at work.
In the world of science, specificity often matters more than anything. Studying oceanography will allow you to become an expert on important subjects all relating to the ocean. The National Ocean Service points out, “Oceanography covers a wide range of topics, including marine life and ecosystems, ocean circulation, plate tectonics and the geology of the seafloor, and the chemical and physical properties of the ocean.” If you are considering a career in marine conservation, specializing in oceanography will set you up for success and give you the background knowledge you’ll need. Marine Insight says, “Oceanographers mostly focus on subjects like hydrology, environmental science, oceanography, or even geosciences. There are many [specializations] like chemical, physical, marine geology, and biological oceanography further into the sphere.”
5. Environmental science
Another multidisciplinary degree that will help any aspiring marine conservationist is environmental science. Students who pursue a degree in environmental science study an integrated curriculum that includes courses in biology, chemistry, physics, geography, and social sciences. Having a grasp on how these different strands of science all work together, fostering an understanding of how different systems work independently and also together, is vital for any future conservationist and advocate for the Earth and its resources. Many environmental science majors continue with their studies by specializing in one or more science-related field. The environmental science degree provides excellent knowledge and lays the groundwork for higher-level analysis and integration in other fields.
6. Nonprofit management
Maybe you see yourself as a leader and activist in the nonprofit world in high-level management. As an executive director or department head of an environmental advocacy or conservationist bent organization, knowing what you are protecting and how to protect it matters. A lot. The Sierra Club describes how important it is to have leaders in the nonprofit world who advocate for saving our oceans and profiles five such people doing great work to protect the world's oceans. Think you could be one of them? Then consider a dual degree in nonprofit management and a science degree. You could be unstoppable in your endeavors as conservationists, as well as making yourself into one of the most competitive applicants in the field!
As an aspiring marine conservationist have you considered the role that power and politics takes in shaping the future of our oceans and coastlines? The world needs skilled scientists, but also talented politicians and policy advocates and those who can lobby on behalf of oceans and the plants and wildlife which inhabits them. A marine conservationist is also likely a secret politician, at heart. How can we save the whales without considering our current laws and how they impact our usage of the ocean? A background in environmental policy or political science will serve you well as a future marine conservationist.
8. Marine archaeology
Another fascinating branch of marine study is marine archeology. Several schools and universities offer training in this specialization. The marine archaeologist’s job is to delve into studying the remains of human history that lie on or beneath the sea bed, along shorelines, and in lake beds. It is an interdisciplinary profession that includes expertise from archaeology, marine earth sciences, diving, and navigation. Remember the famous discovery of the location for the sunken Titanic shipwreck? That could not have been done without the expertise and help of trained and skilled marine archeologists. Who knows... you could even make the next sunken treasure discovery!
9. Aquatic animal health and veterinarian
Another adjacent career to marine conservation is aquatic animal health and veterinarian. One of “the most unique and interesting marine careers” according to Marine Insight, an aquatic veterinarian gets to spend all day treating and providing preventative care for aquatic animals. Think: zoo doctor! These workers play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of marine animals. They also do important research and ongoing trials and studies of these animals. Getting into aquatic animal medicine may be challenging, but it will likely be an amazing and rewarding career choice.
Marine conservationists, aside from understanding the science behind the oceans and ecosystems they strive to protect, also need to be able to convince funders and investors reasons why it is vital to protect our oceans. Providing stellar photography, images so striking they get people to write six-figure cheques or volunteer thousands of hours, is one way to push the envelope on marine conservation. The professional underwater photographer or filmmaker can do wonders for the future of marine life! For example, National Geographic reports, "Doctor Enric Sala was working as a marine biologist when one day it dawned on him that he was "writing the obituary of the ocean"." He realized his research alone wasn’t going to save the ecosystems he was so passionate about. So to the title of scientist he added a slew of new roles, including public relations expert, advocate, and photographer for his work with the Pristine Seas project.” That could be you, too. Maybe a picture really can be worth more than a 1,000 words...
If you are into technology, imagine putting your tech skills to use by designing and building things that help protect our marine wildlife and our oceans! Sea robots, high-tech tagging, smarter nets -- these are just some of the cool new technologies for marine conservation. It’s all the realm of possibility. You can combine your technical skills with your passion for marine conservation to great success.
12. Business and Entrepreneurship
Technology not your thing? Are you more business minded? Got an entrepreneurial bent? Marine life and oceans need people who are savvy at business, too. Who can fundraise and invest money in conservation efforts? Who can develop innovative business strategies to save the oceans? Breakthrough innovations can do so much for the environment and marine conservation. Having a background in business best practices can not only help you advance your goals of marine conservation but can also set you up to successfully negotiate and create innovative business opportunities.
Paving the path to a career in marine conservation can take make forms and directions. As an interdisciplinary pursuit, we suggest following your interests and investing in learning the skills and applied knowledge that most appeals to you. Always keep in mind what ocean explorer and activist Jacques Cousteau said: “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.” And you can make a great difference!