The Marine Biology Major 2013-14

The marine biology major is designed to introduce students to marine ecosystems, including the great diversity of marine organisms and their coastal and oceanic environments. The emphasis is on basic principles that help us to understand the processes that shape life in marine environments. The marine biology major is a demanding program that offers a B.S. degree and requires several more courses than the general biology B.A. major. Students with bachelor’s degrees in marine biology find employment opportunities in a variety of fields. In conjunction with a teaching credential or graduate degree in teaching, students often use their marine biology background to teach science at the K–12 level.

Study and Research Opportunities

  • Undergraduate Degree Available: Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
  • The hallmark of this major: the large number of lab and field courses that provide students with opportunities to study and conduct research in a diversity of marine ecosystems: beaches, rocky intertidal, estuaries, kelp forests, coral reefs, and near shore open ocean
  • A wide variety of courses focused on marine topics: ecology, conservation, botany, environment, ecosystems, invertebrate biology, ichthyology, marine mammal biology, biological oceanography, geology, and more
  • Numerous field and laboratory marine courses in which students conduct directed and independent research projects
  • An array of opportunities to work with marine-oriented federal agencies (e.g., NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Geological Service (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve), and state agencies (e.g., California Department of Fish and Game, California Coastal Commission, Water Quality Control Boards), research institutions (e.g., Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), and non-profit organizations in the Monterey Bay area for directed faculty- and/or department-sponsored independent study in marine biology

High School Preparation

In addition to the courses required for UC admission, high school students who intend to major in marine biology should take high school courses in biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics (precalculus and/or calculus), and physics.

Transfer Preparation

The faculty encourage applications from students who are prepared to transfer into the marine biology major at the junior level. Students interested in transferring into a biological sciences major should consult the proscribed transfer preparation from their program. For the marine biology major visit Students completing their transfer course work at a California community college should visit to determine which course work to complete prior to transfer.

The Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) will not provide transfer students with enough mathematics and science courses to allow them to complete the program at UC Santa Cruz in two years. Transfer students must complete science prerequisite courses prior to transferring in order to finish a Biological Sciences degree at UCSC, specifically calculus, general chemistry with labs, and an introductory biology sequence. Students are best served by also taking statistics and a complete introductory physics sequence, if possible. Prospective transfer students should visit the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at for further information (see the More Information section).

Introductory requirements for the marine biology major are:

  • Calculus: MATH 11A + 11B OR MATH 19A + 19B OR AMS 15A + 15B
  • Chemistry: CHEM 1A + 1B + 1C/N
  • Biology: BIOL 20A + BIOE 20B + BIOE 20C
  • Physics: PHYS 6A/L + 6B OR PHYS 6A/L + 6C
  • Biostatistics: AMS 7/L


Technical positions with local, state, and federal governmental agencies are most commonly pursued. Coastal cities and counties maintain biology staffs for monitoring and evaluating water quality and environmental impacts of marine discharges. Examples of employment opportunities with California’s state agencies include the State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Quality Control Boards; Environmental Protection Agency; Departments of Conservation, Fish and Game, Parks and Recreation, and Water Resources; and the California Coastal Commission (these and other applicable state agencies are listed at Examples of federal agencies include National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, United States Geological Service’s Biological Resources Division, Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Sanctuaries, National Ocean Service, National Park Service, and others. The number of local, regional, national, and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially those oriented toward marine conservation, continues to grow rapidly. These organizations hire students as interns and permanent technical staff.

Elsewhere in the private sector, students find employment with mariculture, environmental consulting, aquariums, and biotechnology firms. Academic research institutions also hire students for technical research positions. All of the above provide students opportunities to explore career trajectories as they consider continuing their education in graduate programs. The strong reputation of the marine biology program at UC Santa Cruz underpins the strong record of successful placement of its graduates in employment and graduate programs.

Education Abroad Program (EAP)

The UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) offers qualified students unique opportunities to broaden their educational horizons. Many programs are in English-speaking countries or use English for advanced courses. Many programs offer small classes and extensive laboratory and/or field research experience.

There are excellent programs for biological science students in Costa Rica, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. The Costa Rica Tropical Biology Program is of note to students interested in tropical biology and ecology. Held spring and fall quarters at the Monteverde Research Station, this program gives students experience with hands-on field research, offers a homestay program, and carries credit for upper-division biology courses. The University of Queensland (Australia) offers an intensive, full-semester Marine Science Program, which includes a stay at a research station on the Great Barrier Reef, near sheltered mangrove and seagrass habitats.

Students interested in study abroad need to get an early start on their basic science requirements, including general chemistry, math, and introductory biology. Visit the EAP office as soon as possible to begin planning, and seek advice about your academic plan from the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs adviser.

Academic Advising

Academic advising is available from Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs. The Undergraduate Affairs web site at, contains detailed information about the degree programs, sample schedules, transferring credit, placement exams, faculty research, and opportunities in the Physical and Biological Sciences.

More Information

Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs
142 Jack Baskin Engineering Building
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
(831) 459-4143

See Also