Get This Job: Marine Ecologist

Save the world—and get to swim on the job.

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marine ecologist
A marine ecologist goes deep to study ocean wildlife. Photo by: Jeff Yonover

Think: Floating among reef sharks in the crystalline waters of French Polynesia, tagging tiger sharks and sea turtles on a six-month research expedition in Australia, capturing alligators in the Everglades. “It is a real privilege to go to such amazing places and work with animals that a lot of people never even get to see,” says Mike Heithaus of Florida International University in Miami, whose work aims to educate others about marine ecosystems and promote their conservation. As a professor, he’s also shaping the next generation of ocean protectors.

The ocean is the ultimate wilderness, containing 50 to 80 percent of all life on Earth and covering 71 percent of the planet’s surface. That means marine ecologists, who study interactions between the ocean and its inhabitants, have a huge office—and an equally important job to do, as climate change, pollution, and population growth continue to threaten the ocean and its creatures.

The government employs more than half of all wildlife biologists, the umbrella category for marine ecologists. Average salaries range from $54,000 (for state employees) on up to $80,000 (federal), with a master’s degree.

Less exciting aspects of the job? Engine repair (“something’s always breaking”), grant writing (to fund research), and seasickness. “If you haven’t been seasick, you haven’t spent enough days on the water,” Heithaus says.

Pay $58,000 Prerequisites Most have a master’s Perks Swimming, sweet sunsets Problems The urgent intractability of climate change Prospects 21,100 jobs by 2022 for all wildlife biologists (+5%)