The ocean covers 70% of our planet’s surface and, yet, less than 5% of it has been explored. As a future marine biologist, you can be at the forefront of new discoveries. Whether you'll be monitoring marine animal life at an aquarium or setting sail to study and document the life of an unknown ecosystem in a remote location, a career in marine biology goes beyond studying ocean organisms.
Studying marine biology abroad connects you to renowned institutions focusing on exploring, understanding, and conserving the most exciting ecosystems on the planet. And, who knows? You might just come across an unknown species, worthy of the science fiction universe of "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".
Studying an ecosystem that you had only read about in textbooks is the chance of a lifetime. The majority of courses abroad will focus more on field work -- as opposed to lab activities and classroom knowledge -- so if you prefer hands-on learning, you won’t find it difficult to find something suitable in this field.
Keep in mind the region you’d like to explore because local universities tailor their courses for foreign students based on their specific areas and ecosystem, so where you study has a big effect on what you wind up learning.
Studying the interactions of marine life is far from being an isolated subject and many students are looking to understand how to minimize the impact of human intervention in endangered areas.
If you have a theory to test and prove in real life, in this or other areas, a research theses program not only helps you connect all those dots but it could set the course for the future of a species. If you enjoy a combination of both lab work and field work, this type of program allows for that in-depth experience in both areas.
There are situations when field work or lab research don’t show you the whole picture. Understanding the culture of a place and how it relates, positively or negatively, to the sustainability of marine life could set the path for some breakthrough findings.
Direct enrollment programs that include spending a semester at sea, while visiting different countries on your ship's route, are perfect for marine biologists who have a hint of Jacques Cousteau in them.
Where to Go
Going overseas to study marine biology can be challenging considering the geographical limitations of simply where you can do fieldwork on this subject -- but anyone with an adventurous spirit knows that’s just part of the journey. All of the destinations listed below are home to an impressive biodiversity that provides an excellent backdrop for study.
The question isn’t if you’d like to study marine biology in Australia, but where in this large country with thousands of miles of coastline and rich aquatic environments do you want to do it. With dozens of institutions offering different courses in this subject, you can almost pick anywhere in the country and you'll find a robust offering.
As the country’s concerns to protect the Great Barrier Reef rise, so does its need to bring in foreign students who may help contribute to new, globally-minded solutions. More than just studying the reef’s biodiversity, you’ll be helping with conservation efforts and bolstering the sustainability of this ecosystem in the future.
With a width of about 170 miles, this South American country has the best of both worlds when it comes to marine biology: the Caribbean Sea on the east coast and the Pacific Ocean on the west coast.
If you’re particularly interested in tropical ecosystems, Costa Rica gives you a lot to work with. As a leading ecotourism destination, it's also an interesting place to study the connection between sustainable travel and the conservation of local marine species.
The Azores (Portugal)
The nine-island Portuguese archipelago is just a four-hour flight away from the east coast of the United States and, yet, it remains as one of the most remote and unexplored locations in the world.
The Azoreans have always turned to the ocean for sustenance. They have a great respect for ocean life and even instituted a ban on whale-hunting in the mid-1980s. It's a wonderful location for studying and learning about the vast Atlantic Ocean, its biodiversity, and underwater volcanic activity. Marine biologists on the islands often work as tour guides to teach about the local biodiversity and to make sure popular activities like whale watching are done responsibly.
If these islands were powerful enough to make an impression on Charles Darwin and lead him to formulate his famous Theory of Natural Selection, can you imagine what they can do to inspire you?
“Stand on the shoulders of giants” like Darwin or Alexander Von Humboldt (after whom the Humboldt Current in the Galapagos is named after) and study marine biology in one of the world’s most famous bucket-list travel destinations.
Planning Your Trip
Choosing the right program for you can break or make your experience, so consider your long-term goals before settling on the right opportunity. Do you want more time available for exploration or are you quite happy spending more time in the lab? Do you want to just learn about a new field or build more professional experience? Questions like this will help you reflect on what country you choose to study abroad in and on every other aspect of your trip planning.
How to Choose a Marine Biology Study Abroad Program
Language is always a factor, especially if you’re not fluent in the mother tongue of the country you’re considering going to. Technical lingo may get lost in translation. Some third-party providers include language lessons in their programs, but if you don’t feel comfortable learning a new language, choose an English-speaking country or a program that guarantees classes in English.
In the cases when language isn’t a barrier, and before assessing the programs with the ideal duration for your goals, choose one that’s more practical. After all, theoretical classes work well back home but the reason why you chose to go overseas is to study the local marine biodiversity hands-on.
Health & Safety
Consult your physician for advice on medications and vaccinations you need before traveling. You can also prepare for your appointment by checking the vaccination requirements of the country you’re moving into on the CDC official website.
If you feel safer abroad as part of a group with other American students, look for a program that specializes in group travel to the country of your choice. If you’d rather have a more local experience, check the updates on safety in travel destinations at the U.S. Department of State official website.
Other Good to Know
Fieldwork for a marine biology student is a bit different from other subjects. Ask the program providers -- or the university you’re going to if you've chosen direct enrollment -- if the planned activities require you to take your own gear (for scuba diving, for example). If yes, how many hours of fieldwork are scheduled and will you need your gear all the time? Are there any additional fees to pack it or ship it (whichever is easier, cheaper, and faster)? If fees are high, can you rent it at your destination? Are there student discounts?
Universities that host foreign students usually have a welcoming department or committee that will help you with the transition once you arrive or that you can contact before leaving. Remember that local students benefit from this cultural exchange as well so they’ll gladly make you feel at home and answer all your questions regarding safety and living costs.