School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology

In this hands-on degree, one of the best in the UK and with an international reputation, you’ll tackle big questions, such as why are coral reefs so diverse, how do we best manage and conserve marine life, and how will climate change impact biodiversity? Fieldwork will be a key component of your studies, using the excellent marine and coastal habitats on Plymouth’s doorstep, as well as on residential courses in France and South Africa.

Working in partnership with our teaching staff – all of whom are leading international researchers – you’ll develop industry-relevant skills using some of Europe’s best marine facilities. The opportunity to take a six or 12-month international placement in your third year will also further enhance your workplace-related experience. With its combination of pure and applied aspects, this degree will equip you with the knowledge and skills to tackle major environmental challenges.

Thumb marinebiology

Marine biology courses

This is one of three marine biology undergraduate courses we offer, which are closely integrated and have the same entry requirements. They share common modules and research-led teaching applies to each, however there are important differences and we encourage you to read the course descriptions carefully, so that you find the course that most suits your interests.

Which marine biology course should I choose?

Key features

  • Add an exciting extra dimension to your marine studies by examining marine organisms and ecosystems in a truly global context. If you are interested in how marine and coastal habitats work, why they are so diverse and how best to conserve them, this is the course for you.
  • Access the University’s research vessels based in the Plymouth Sound Special Area for Conservation and, from 2014/15, our new Marine Station.
  • Benefit from our reputation as an international centre for marine and environmental research. Our expert teaching staff are active researchers and enthusiastic specialists in their fields – one of the many reasons why 84 per cent of our graduates said our staff made the subject interesting [Source: UNISTATS].
  • Study marine life in the wild with access to the beautiful and varied Devon and Cornwall coastline. A recent World Wildlife Fund report highlighted the South Devon coast – which can be reached on foot from campus – as the area of highest marine biodiversity in the UK.
  • Deepen your experience through practical field and laboratory work, linked to lectures – something regularly praised by our external examiners. Our specialist facilities include advanced molecular and behavioural laboratories, a seawater aquarium, environmentally controlled labs and a new bespoke marine station opening in 2014/15.
  • Increase your knowledge and apply your skills in an international setting, with two residential field courses abroad (France and South Africa – one of the most biodiverse places on earth), giving you the chance to study organisms and ecosystems not found in the UK.
  • Develop a wide range of skills that will prepare you for your chosen career and make you attractive to employers – learn how to ask and answer research questions, and how to apply this skill to conservation challenges in the real world.  There is also the opportunity to gain the HSE PRO SCUBA qualification, for those with a suitable background in diving.
  • Immerse yourself in Plymouth’s marine research culture. Alongside the University the city is home to several other world-leading establishments, one of the largest concentrations of marine science study in Europe. Take opportunities to gain extra experience working in one of the marine organisations located in Plymouth, alongside your studies.
  • Take the opportunity to contribute to the latest research and advances in the field – many of our students have their research projects published in leading international peer-reviewed journals.
  • Choose from a wide range of subjects that most interest you and are best suited to your intended career path, building your own specialisms and skills.
  • LABplus is a unique open access laboratory and resource centre designed for students studying science and engineering courses. The lab provides a flexible workspace, computing facilities, specialist software, access to microscopes, microscope cameras and bespoke resources.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • In your first year, you’ll be introduced to marine biology, ecology and key biological themes, with topics from biodiversity and ecosystems to evolution and animal behaviour. Via lectures, small group tutorials, lab and fieldwork, you’ll begin to acquire skills that will boost your employability and help your career development. You’ll benefit from hands-on experience on the Devon coastline, and an overseas residential field course, exposing you to different marine organisms and developing your scientific skills.
    Core modules
    • MBIO120 Introduction to Marine Biology

      This module will introduce students to marine biology covering aspects such as marine ecosystems, organisms and oceanography. This will also start to develop a range of core skills and confidence in effective written communication, information technology (including use of peer-reviewed literature), and data handling skills. It will also start to develop field and id skills and taxonomy skills and safe fieldwork practices.

    • MBIO121 Life on Earth

      The module will provide an overview of the major taxa of living organisms, their diversity, biology and evolutionary relationships.

    • MBIO122 Evolution and Biodiversity

      This course provides an introduction to the bases of life, of evolution and its consequences. From understanding genes and genomes we build up to a consideration of how Natural Section drives the diversification of life using examples from trilobites to human evolution. We then look at how the process of diversification is countered by extinction and consider the current state of global biodiversity.

    • MBIO123 Marine Biology Field Course

      This module develops core skills in effective oral and written communication and provides a toolbox of essential material on numeracy and statistics to address quantitative questions in Marine Biology. During an intensive field course, you will immerse yourself in practical aspects of marine biology, asking questions based on observations and then formulating appropriate hypotheses that can then be tested.

    • OS102 Physical and Chemical Processes of the Ocean

      This module provides an introduction to the main physical and chemical processes occurring in the world's oceans and a foundation in key aspects of underpinning science and mathematics.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL124PP Biology of Sex

      This module will introduce you to the following topics; the evolution of sex, competition for mates, sperm competition, mate choice, sex & disease and other elements of the biology of sex. Each week will start with a discussion of the main areas of exciting research on that topic, across a range of species including humans. Students will then develop their learning in supervised workshops.

    • BIOL125PP Scientific Method and Ethics in Biology

      This module explores how modern scientific research is conducted; the importance of professional ethics in science, based on principles of rigour, respect and responsibility; the essential elements of effective science communication; and the development of critical scientific thinking involving graphical, numerical and statistical approaches. It includes examples of reliable (`good') and unreliable (`bad') science.

    • ENGL405PP Making Waves: Representing the Sea, Then and Now

      The four-week Plymouth Plus module fosters both analytical and creative skills, through problem-based, self-reflective, collaborative and interdisciplinary learning; students devise a major group presentation. Discipline-based skills are focused on the topic of the sea; close attention to classic maritime poetry and fiction encourages basic literary critical and creative skills. The analytical concept of waves is central to the module, and broadens the topic out to foster more general critical, theory-based thinking.

    • OS106PP Our Ocean Planet

      In this module students will explore important topical issues associated with our ocean planet. Students will have a creative opportunity to work in teams on a topic of their choice using a project based learning approach. They will develop a variety of communication skills in order to present their ideas in a medium of their team's choice.

    • ROCO103PP Robot Design and Build

      This module will introduce the students to practical skills needed to design and build a small robot. A number of hands-on tutorials on specific topics will provide the necessary knowledge. Most of the module will be organized around practical design-and-build exercises framed in the context of a robot competition.

  • Year 2
  • In your second year, you’ll sharpen your practical skills on the South Devon coastline, just minutes away. We’ll introduce you to methods for collecting, handling and analysing scientific data, understanding ecological theories, applying these to shallow water marine habitats, and getting to grips with the major threats faced by aquatic habitats worldwide. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of what shapes marine and coastal biodiversity through a residential field course, currently held in South Africa.
    Core modules
    • BIOL214 Ecology

      An understanding of basic concepts is needed to solve ecological problems. This module explores key concepts in ecology at the levels of individuals, populations and communities. The concepts are supported with examples taken from terrestrial and aquatic systems, and provide a useful insight into the search for general theories in ecology.

    • MBIO213 Coastal Biodiversity and Ecology Field Course

    • MBIO217 Ecology of Shallow Water Marine Habitats

      Shallow water marine habitats represent some of the most diverse and productive habitats on earth. This module provides an overview of the key factors influencing their ecology and will also consider the biology of the organisms therein, the scientific study of shallow water habitats and the analysis, evaluation and communication of marine ecological data.

    • MBIO224 Methods in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology

      Provides the core skills and techniques that will equip students to perform laboratory and field studies in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology. Introduces appropriate methodologies for the collection, handling and analysis of data; the scientific principles underlying experimental design and the effective communication of scientific information.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL204 Principles of Conservation Biology

      Successful conservation is dependent on a thorough grasp of fundamental biological principles. The conceptual aspects of population, molecular, & evolutionary ecology which are central to understanding the dynamics of, and future threats to, extant populations of organisms are reviewed.

    • MBIO220 Applied Aquatic Biology

      This module introduces the main effects that humans have on key freshwater and marine ecosystems throughout the globe, as well as strategies for the monitoring, conservation and sustainable use of these systems.

    • MBIO222 Ecophysiology of Marine Animals

      This module will develop a detailed understanding of how marine organisms `work¿ within an ecological and evolutionary context.

    • MBIO228 Biology of Marine Organisms

      This module will provide an introduction to fundamental aspects of the biology of marine organisms. Particular attention is paid to the diversity of form and function within key groups of marine chloroxygenic organisms and animals and how this allows them to inhabit different marine environments.

    • OS207 Scientific Diving

      This module allows suitably qualified students (HSE SCUBA or equivalent) to develop industry and research-relevant skills in measurement and monitoring in the underwater environment using professional SCUBA and related techniques. These will then be applied in a multi-disciplinary context to the planning, execution, analysis and reporting of a field-based sampling activity.

  • Optional placement year
  • During your optional third year, you’ll have the opportunity to arrange a work placement, for a six or 12-month period. In this way you’ll be applying the skills you've learned in a professional environment, gaining invaluable experience while making a host of contacts – useful when it comes to finding your first job.
    Core modules
    • BPIE336 Marine Biology related Placement

      A 48-week period of professional training spent as the third year of a sandwich programme undertaking an approved placement with a suitable company. This provides an opportunity for the student to gain relevant industrial experience to consolidate the first two stages of study and to prepare for the final stage and employment after graduation.

  • Final year
  • Your final year of study allows you to focus on your chosen areas of interest, building your own specialisms and skills. You’ll conduct an extensive personal research project, applying the skills and methods you've learned. You’ll also choose from a range of modules that are driven by the research interests of our staff, again giving you the opportunity to specialise and tailor your work towards your career goals, whilst studying at the cutting edge of the field.
    Core modules
    • MBIO313 Personal Research

      This module comprises a research study element, which includes the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; researching relevant literature and report writing and a literature review of a topic addressing wider issues of relevance to their field of research study.

    • MBIO327 Marine Ecology

      This module considers the processes and mechanisms that affect the development and structure of marine communities through a discussion of the current evidence base, recent concepts and theories relating to multiple life histories stages of marine species from around the globe and experimental testing of behavioural processes. This will be followed by an investigation of the nature and significance of key processes in structuring marine communities.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL310 Global Change Biology

      This module provides the student with an in-depth overview of the likely consequences of climate change for plant and animal species biology and distribution over the coming century. From this starting point we will show how an understanding of climate change biology is vital for conservation theory and practice over coming decades.

    • MBIO317 Behavioural Ecology

      This module examines the theory underpinning key conceptual models in behavioural ecology (e.g. optimal foraging, ideal free distribution, game theory). These models will be critically discussed in relation to empirical studies.

    • MBIO322 Marine Microbiology - Ecology and Applications

      Marine microbiology has recently emerged as one of the fastest moving areas of the subject. We now realise the importance of marine microbes in global processes, interactions with other marine life and significance for disease and biotechnology. Application of this knowledge has profound implications for human welfare and the future health of the planet.

    • MBIO324 Speciation and Diversity

      This module deals with the nature, generation and significance of biological diversity through a discussion of recent species concepts and mechanisms of speciation in a range of organisms, with emphasis on the evolutionary processes at work. This is followed by an investigation of the nature and significance of biological diversity; how it is assessed, and how it is distributed.

    • MBIO325 Marine Algae: Eco-Physiology and Utilization

      This module provides a comprehensive coverage of selected topics on the inter-relationships between marine macroalgae and their environment, with particular emphasis on physiological and cellular responses to natural and anthropogenic stresses. It also introduces the global importance of marine algae as a resource utilized by humans and presents a critical overview of the methods used in seaweed aquaculture.

    • MBIO339 Ecology and Conservation of Marine Vertebrates

      Marine vertebrates are vulnerable to depletion through over fishing, industrial development, pollution and habitat degradation. This module will examine the ecology of these animals in their natural environments and explore methods for surveying, monitoring and managing populations and species. There is a strong emphasis on current research and hot topics with numerous case studies used throughout the module.

    • MBIO340 Behaviour and Physiology of Marine Animals

      This module explores the adaptations that provide constraints and opportunities for a range of marine organisms to exploit their habitat, focussing primarily on vertebrates, but including comparative aspects of relevant examples from invertebrate biology. It examines the impact of natural and anthropogenic stresses and current methods used to investigate important questions in behaviour and physiology of marine animals.

    • OS307 Marine Conservation Policy and Planning

      This module explores issues surrounding the maintenance of a healthy marine environment. It will develop an understanding of marine governance, including policy frameworks and agencies responsible for implementing marine conservation strategy. Topics include the range of measures and approaches for successful marine conservation and the importance of taking holistic approaches to management, including policy and planning

Every undergraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the course aims, the course structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest course structure and may be subject to change:

BSc Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology Programme Specification September 2017 1199

The modules shown for this course are those currently being studied by our students, or are proposed new modules. Please note that programme structures and individual modules are subject to amendment from time to time as part of the University’s curriculum enrichment programme and in line with changes in the University’s policies and requirements.

Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

120 - 144

A level applicants

128 points from a minimum of 2 A levels to include biology plus a second science (includes chemistry, environmental science, geography, geology, marine science, mathematics, physics or psychology). Biology and the second science subject must be at grade B or above. If no second science is offered, 136 points (including grade A Biology) are required. General Studies and key skills are excluded.

International Baccalaureate
30 points, normally to include grade 5 in Biology and a second science at Higher Level.

BTEC National Diploma
Applications from students studying 18 Unit BTEC National Diploma/QCF Extended Diploma in applied science, animal management, environmental sustainability or countryside management (marine and coastal ecology) are welcomed. Typical offer: DDD, depending on units studied. 

BTEC National Diploma modules
If you hold a BTEC qualification it is vital that you provide our Admissions team with details of the exact modules you have studied as part of the BTEC. Without this information we may be unable to process your application quickly and you could experience significant delays in the progress of your application to study with us. Please explicitly state the full list of modules within your qualification at the time of application.

Access course
Pass an Access to HE Science course with 60 credits overall, to include 45 credits at Level 3, of which 30 credits must be at distinction and 15 credits at merit or higher. Must include a minimum 15 credits in biology units, plus 15 credits in other relevant subjects (includes mathematics, physics, chemistry, environmental science/studies, applied science, geography, geology, technology or psychology). An interview is usually required.

International qualifications
We welcome applicants offering a wide range of international qualifications. Applications are considered on an individual basis, depending on the subjects studied.

Other qualifications
Applicants with other qualifications should contact the Admissions Office for advice.

You can find additional information on our English language requirements page.

For a full list of all acceptable qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

Fees, costs and funding

New Student 2017 2018
Home/EU £9,250 To be confirmed
International £12,500 To be confirmed
Part time (Home/EU) Check with School To be confirmed
Part time (International) Check with School To be confirmed
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per a number of credits. Fees are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change.

How to apply

All applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

UCAS will ask for the information contained in the box at the top of this course page including the UCAS course code and the institution code. 

To apply for this course and for more information about submitting an application including application deadline dates, please visit the UCAS website.

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email international-admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.



Welcome to marine biology at Plymouth

See what it's like to study marine biology at Plymouth.

Marine Station

Boasting lecture facilities overlooking the sea, a wet lab for sample examination and analysis, a seawater aquarium, and field equipment storage and changing facilities.
Discover more about the Marine Station

HSE Professional SCUBA diving course

Plymouth is unique in offering our students the opportunity to gain the HSE Professional SCUBA certification alongside their degree. The course is an intensive four week full-time programme designed to prepare candidates for undertaking media, scientific and archaeological diving projects. If you are looking to do any underwater work in the UK and be paid, you will require a HSE qualification. The Professional SCUBA course is the minimum requirement if you wish to work on scientific, archaeological or media diving projects.

Learn more about the HSE Professional SCUBA diving course.

Additional fieldwork and equipment costs

This course includes residential fieldwork. Typically, where the fieldwork is a compulsory part of the course, transport, accommodation and the majority of food costs are paid by the Faculty.

Some courses offer alternative or optional field courses with an additional cost.

Find out more information

Pip Moore - marine biology and coastal ecology graduate

Former marine biology and coastal ecology student, Pip Moore, talks about her experience of studying at Plymouth and where it has taken her.

Watch the film to find out more

Careers in marine biology and coastal ecology

Do you want to be an ecologist or marine biologist? Or are you dedicated to carving out a career in marine conservation? As a marine biology and coastal ecology student, your career options are as expansive as the oceans you study.

Whatever your career goals, we’ll work with you to give you the support you need, preparing you to make real impact in your chosen field.

Find out where marine biology and coastal ecology can take you.

Graduate profile - Maya Plass

I never expected that my career would be so varied and exciting.
Read Maya's full profile

Graduate Profile - Terri Souster

After graduating from Plymouth, I worked for the Marine Biological Association conducting benthic surveys off the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, before joining the British Antarctic Survey.

Potential High Achievers Scheme

In the School of Biological and Marine Sciences we are passionate and committed to both teaching and research and we are looking for talented and motivated students to share in this passion for biology in all its forms. We know that our applicants will thrive in the hands-on environment we can provide, and we want to ensure our best applicants become our future.

The scheme is now open for students who have applied to study, from September 2017, a range of full-time undergraduate courses across the biological sciences subject areas. We will be contacting applicants who are not only on course to achieve top marks but who have an outstanding personal statement, in order to offer them a chance to receive an unconditional offer immediately.

Find out more about the scheme.

Study sessions for students by students: Peer Assisted Learning Scheme (PALS)

To complement your formal learning we offer regular sessions that provide the opportunity for you to learn with and from your peers. Share knowledge, discuss ideas, and ask questions in a relaxed and friendly environment

If you are a first or second year take the opportunity to study in a relaxed environment, along with other students on the same programme.

Find out more about how PALS can benefit your studies