School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Oceanography

Around 70 per cent of our planet is ocean with an average depth of 3000m. To understand the biology of this vast area, we must also understand the oceans themselves. Marine biology and oceanography studies the biology and ecology of the marine realm, with a focus on offshore and deep-sea ecosystems, and the physical and chemical processes that shape them. Teaching uses both small and large research vessels, providing you with an unrivalled experience of open ocean marine biology.

You will develop a host of practical skills that will prepare you for your chosen career and make you attractive to employers. You will have the opportunity to gain the HSE PRO SCUBA qualification, for those with a suitable background in diving. You’ll also gain invaluable experience on a six or 12-month international placement during your third year, or working in a local host organisation alongside your studies.

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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?

Aurelia jelly fish

Key features

  • Explore the marine life of the open ocean and deep-sea and how physical and chemical processes drive the biology and ecology of marine species.
  • Study marine life in the wild with access to the University’s research vessels based in the Plymouth Sound Special Area for Conservation and, from 2014/15, our new Marine Station.
  • 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. 
  • Benefit from our reputation as an international centre for marine research. Our expert teaching staff collaborate on many varied research projects – one of the many reasons why 100 per cent of our graduates said that our staff are good at explaining things. [Source: UNISTATS]
  • Gain invaluable experience on a six or 12-month international placement during your third year, or working in a local host organisation alongside your studies. You’ll also have the chance to spend your second year at one of our partner universities in the US, Canada or Australia, giving you the chance to study marine animals not found in UK waters.
  • Increase your knowledge and apply your skills in an international setting, with two residential field courses abroad (France and Sweden), and experience research on a large ocean-going research vessel.
  • Develop a host of practical skills that will prepare you for your chosen career and make you attractive to employers. You will also have the opportunity to gain the HSE PRO SCUBA qualification, for those with a suitable background in diving.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • In your first year, you’ll get to grips with key biological and oceanographic themes, with topics ranging from biodiversity and ecosystems to evolution and microbiology. Through a mixture of lectures, small group tutorials, laboratory and fieldwork, you’ll begin to acquire skills that will boost your employability and help your career development. You’ll also benefit from a residential field course abroad, introducing you to the processes of scientific investigation, data collection and analysis.
    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 develop a deeper understanding of the biology and ecology of marine organisms and chemical and biological oceanography. You will receive hands-on, practical training in marine survey, underwater sampling, and species identification, skills that will be honed during the field course in Sweden, where you will undertake field research in deep water from an ocean-going research vessel.
    Core modules
    • MBIO225 Methods in Marine Biology and Oceanography

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

    • MBIO227 Biological Oceanography Field Course

      A residential field course providing knowledge of sampling offshore marine systems from research vessels. A range of ecosystems will be investigated primarily with respect to their biological component but emphasis will also be placed upon understanding the biological significance of major physico-chemical parameters in the study area.

    • 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.

    • OS201 Global Ocean Processes

    Optional modules
    • 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.

    • MBIO221 Marine Molecular Biology

      The application of molecular techniques in marine biology has revolutionised our understanding of marine life, from individuals to ecosystems. This module provides a foundation in the concepts and techniques underlying these developments.

    • OS204 Waves, Tides and Coastal Dynamics

      This module provides an introduction to the characteristics of ocean waves and focuses on how waves and tides interact with the coast and drive the coastal processes that result in shoreline erosion and accretion.

    • 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.

    • OS209 Marine Remote Sensing

      This module introduces the theory underlying remote sensing using introductory lectures and laboratory practicals. An opportunity to apply the theory in the remote sensing context is provided by boat and computing work. Remote sensing imagery is introduced early in the module and students work on image enhancement, analysis and interpretation in the latter part of the course, supported by theory lectures and/or workshops.

  • Optional placement year
  • During your third year, you’ll have the opportunity to do a work placement, for six or 12 months. Alternatively you’ll be able to choose a work-based learning module, alongside your studies.
    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 provides the opportunity for you to focus on your chosen areas of interest. You’ll conduct an extensive personal research project, applying the skills and methods you've learnt. You’ll also choose from a range of modules driven by the research interests of our staff, again giving you the opportunity to specialise and tailor your work towards your career goals, while studying at the cutting edge of marine biology.
    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.

    • MBIO341 Biological Oceanography

      This module provides a study of the key physical, ecological and organismal processes in the marine environment and introduces a range of biological studies in applied marine science.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL311 Ecotoxicology

      This module provides a detailed analysis of the concepts and principles of ecotoxicology, with an emphasis on evaluation of ecotoxicological techniques and methods for assessment of impacts of pollutants on the aquatic environment.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • OS303 Ocean Dynamics

      The module provides an introduction to dynamical oceanography with emphasis on the large- and meso-scale circulation in the world ocean and shelf seas. Topics include geostrophic and wind driven currents, eddies, formation of fronts, upwelling, interactions between water masses, exchanges between shelf and deep seas. Emphasis is placed on quantitative understanding of physical processes and the analysis of field data.

    • OS304 Marine Ecosystem Conservation

      From tropical mangroves to temperate pelagic waters, marine ecosystems around the world face a variety of threats due to human activities and resource pressure. This module will examine threats to a range of marine and coastal ecosystems and explore methods for management and conservation. We will explore methods for surveying and monitoring marine ecosystems and learn about the ecological consequences of human impacts.

    • OS306 Coastal Geomorphology and Estuaries

      A study of the different geomorphological archetypes of the coastal zone which builds on the student's knowledge of physical processes to describe how the geographical characteristics of these zones develop. The module explores how the characteristics of these zones influence the associated ecosystems and examines how human utilisation of this space contributes to or conflicts with the natural setting.

    • OS309 Marine Pollution and Environmental Change

      This module will consider the sources, transport, sinks and impacts of a wide range of pollutant types (including nutrients, trace elements, sediments, anthropogenic pollutants and carbon dioxide). Practical field techniques will be introduced and used to assess the environmental condition of estuarine waters. Emphasis will be placed on critical evaluating the links between human activities and marine water quality.

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 Oceanography Programme Specification September 2017 2055

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 Check with School To be confirmed
International Check with School 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

Careers in marine biology and oceanography

We can provide you with the skills to be a marine environmental biologist with a thorough understanding of how physical and chemical processes influence marine life, or an oceanographer with a strong biological background.

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 - Naomi Wise

Plymouth is well known for its excellence within the field of marine sciences and it has other advantages too!

Overseas fieldtrips influenced Naomi’s future career choice.

Read Naomi's profile

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