Marine biology Environment

Marine biology Environment

Oceans cover 70 per cent of Earth’s surface, and they are a vital part of the earth system, as well as critical for transportation and trade.

At Macquarie you’ll study the marine environment and the organisms that inhabit it. You’ll combine concepts from biology, geology and environmental science to understand the past, present and future of this wonderfully complex system.


Undergraduate Courses

Degree 2018 ATAR
Bachelor of Marine Science 78.00


Undergraduate Courses

Degree 2018 ATAR
Bachelor of Marine Science 78.00

Bachelor of Marine Science

Our Bachelor of Marine Science program produces graduates with strong interdisciplinary skills spanning biological, geological and environmental sciences prepared to work in industry, government and not-for-profit organizations. This strong cross-disciplinary foundation in biological and physical processes as well as quantitative skills prepares our students to take a holistic view of marine systems and understand the important linkages critical to their function. In addition, we pride ourselves on exposing our students to marine systems from coastal to open ocean, from tropics to polar, and from deep geological time through modern day to projected futures.

Key features

  • Strong interdisciplinary focus prepares our students for a wide range of employment opportunities.
  • A balance of fieldwork, lab work, and theory.
  • As one of the most research-intensive areas of the University, all units contain significant proportions of the latest research material in the form of case studies, or reference to the instructor’s own research.
  • Prepares students to undertake future research through Masters of Research and for the Masters of Marine Science and Management.

Masters program in Marine Science and Management

The Marine Science Program at Macquarie University, in partnership with Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), the University of Technology Sydney, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney has developed a new and innovative Masters program in Marine Science and Management. This interdisciplinary and cross-institutional program is unique in Australia. It has been designed to give students the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge in a range of disciplines in marine science and management.

Key Features

  • Emphasis on multidisciplinary teaching allowing students to individually tailor their degree.
  • The program combines each participating institute's strengths in marine science research and education to provide a unique multidisciplinary learning environment.
  • Access to the diverse facilities of the four participating universities and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).
  • Large number of subjects to choose from

Suitable for

  • Students seeking a broad base in marine science as qualification for entry into the field.
  • Students wishing to gain new and specialised skills in a range of theoretical and practical applications.
  • Professionals looking to extend their area of expertise and acquire knowledge of managerial practices.

Careers in marine biology

  • aquaculture/mariculture
  • computer-based ecological modellin
  • environmental consulting
  • exploratory geology/petroleum industry
  • journalism and broadcasting
  • marine geology
  • marine geoscience
  • preparation of impact statements
  • satellite imagery
  • teaching and research
  • underwater archaeology

A degree in Marine Science will prepare you for a variety of interesting and rapidly growing career opportunities. Federal, state and local government agencies employ marine scientists to regulate and monitor the use of resources, solve problems and conduct research. Private industry provides employment in a diverse range of fields.

Employment is also found in a growing number of environmental consultancies and numerous non-government organisations.

Professional experience

Help secure our marine environments. At Macquarie we take a pioneering approach to study with our unique PACE program and learn about marine biology and the impact of climate change while working at local sea life sanctuaries.

Through PACE, marine biology‬ student Ben Buchan worked at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary where he helped to look after the marine wildlife including taking water samples, cleaning the tanks and feeding stingrays, sea turtles and sharks. After his PACE experience Ben was given a paid position at Manly Sea Life where he was able to expand his skills and knowledge in marine conservation.

As a result of the knowledge and experience he gained through PACE and his work at the Mainly Sea Life Sanctuary, Ben was recently awarded one of three worldwide scholarships through Rolex, (the only one to be awarded in Australasia), known as 'Our World Underwater Scholarship Society'. Over 12 months Ben has had the opportunity to travel to a variety of countries in order to learn more about marine environments and to educate communities on the importance of ocean conservation and sustainable practices.

"Through my PACE unit I confirmed my passion for the marine environment. I have gained first-hand experience, skills and techniques that are sought by employers in this field, and without this PACE activity, I may not have had the opportunity to gain these." – Ben Buchan

See Ben's full story below.

Learn more about the opportunities available through PACE.

The research notes that fish cognition and their sensory perception are generally on par with that of other animals. Brown therefore argues that more consideration should be given to fish welfare and anti-cruelty issues.

Brown says that most people rarely think about fish other than as food, or as pets. However, they are second only to mice in terms of the numbers used in scientific research, and the more than 32,000 known species of fish far outweigh the diversity of all other vertebrates combined. Very little public concern – which is so important to inform policy – is ever noted about fish welfare issues. Brown believes this relates to incorrect perceptions about the intelligence of fish, and ultimately of whether they are conscious. Such attitudes are also influenced because humans rarely come into contact with fish in their natural environments.

Brown’s review focuses especially on bony fish. It suggests that fish are, in fact, far more intelligent than many previously believed. Fish have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals, and can learn from one another. This helps to develop stable cultural traditions. Fish even recognise themselves and others. They also cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence, such as cooperation and reconciliation. They build complex structures, are capable of using tools, and use the same methods for keeping track of quantities as humans do. For the most part the primary senses of fish are just as good, and in many cases, better, than that of humans. Their behaviour is very much the same as that of primates, except that fish do not have the ability to imitate.

The level of mental complexity fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, while there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans. While the brains of fish differ from other vertebrates, fish have many analogous structures that perform similar functions. Brown concludes that if any animals are sentient, fish must be considered to be so too.

“Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate,” concludes Brown, who acknowledges that such a move has implications for the fishing industry, among others. “We should therefore include fish in our ‘moral circle’ and afford them the protection they deserve.”

Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics. Animal Cognition. Brown, C. (2014).

However, a new study published in Ecology Letters raises important implications for policymakers to not ignore day-to-day reef death in environmental planning.

“We found that a coral’s physical strength is really important for how it survives the daily rigours of living on shallow-water reefs,” says lead author Dr Joshua Madin of Macquarie University.

“Strong currents and large waves occur quite frequently on the reef, not just during cyclones, and if you think about the enormous area of reef out there, death caused by water motion during the typical summer storms or other periods of strong winds and high waves far outweighs death caused by very rare extreme events, like cyclones.”

The most important finding was that physical forces have a strong signature on coral death during normal conditions. This “background” mortality, although traditionally understood to be important, has fallen off the radar in recent times due to a focus on occasional extreme disturbances, which tend to only affect local areas for short periods of time.

“The effects of bleaching or cyclones are dramatic and worrying given climate change predictions, but our study shows day-to-day mortality is vital and cannot be ignored,” says co-author Dr Maria Dornelas, of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

The study involved painstakingly tracking hundreds of coral colonies every year at Lizard Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The “top-heaviness” of a coral colony proved a very important determinant of survival on the reef, especially in wave-swept habitats. Coral species that grow upwards and outwards with small attachment points, like a tree, tend be knocked over when they grow larger, whereas those that grow more robustly, in the shape of a mound, very rarely get knocked over.

The study also found that corals with similar shapes tend to have similar chances of dying as they grow larger.

“This greatly simplifies our job as ecologists because we can make predictions based on a few simple and easily measured features of corals rather than having to get to know each species intimately,” says co-author Professor Sean Connolly, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

Mechanical vulnerability explains size-dependent mortality of reef corals, Ecology Letters 2014, Joshua S Madin, Andrew H Baird, Maria Dornelas and Sean R Connoll

Undergraduate students learning about the biology, chemistry, and ecology of marine organisms are given the opportunity to get a closer look at live examples of marine plants and invertebrate animals that are commonly seen, and those that are often overlooked, in the Sydney Harbour region.

Seawater is collected from Rose Bay during periods of no rain. The water is filtered to remove impurities before being added to the storage facility. Animals are kept in conditions which reflect Sydney Harbour, with temperatures ranging from 15-22°C.

Find out more about our Seawater Facility.

It contains information on three key research areas:

  • Biodiversity – This research area is led by Climate Futures at Macquarie University, with support from CSIRO. It will focus on increasing knowledge of the capacity of species, ecosystems and landscapes to adapt to current and future climate variability, identify refuges where species can survive extreme events, and explore ways to make integrated decisions for local land use plans that optimise biodiversity outcomes.
  • Adaptive communities – This research area is led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, with support from CSIRO. It will increase knowledge of ways in which urban and rural communities adapt and respond to current and future extreme events and climate variability, and explore ways in which the government can support communities in building their resilience and adaptive capacity.
  • Coastal processes and responses – This research area is led by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) with support from the Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure (ACCARNSI). It will focus on providing local communities and councils in coastal zones with information on coastal and estuary impact assessment, risk management and adaptation responses.

The Hub draws on priorities developed through OEH knowledge strategies and a need to develop research that is operationally relevant.

The Biodiversity Node

Our vision for the Biodiversity Node of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub is a dynamic, collaborative partnership of researchers with OEH scientists, managers and policy makers, incorporating a broad spectrum of partners from universities, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship (CAF), the NSW Department of Primary Industries, local governments, community groups and business.

The Node will be a facilitative body catalysing and supporting the research efforts of the wider adaptation community by providing leadership and coordination with an emphasis on linking researchers to end–users.

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