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OUTDOORS Studying Marine Science

Outdoor Living
A career in Marine Science is both challenging and rewarding.

The marine life as a way of life

Marine Life
John Paul Tiernan

The CAO deadline a week ago got some people in Mayo curious about marine life as a way of life, and led to a few queries in my inbox about pursuing studies in this field at third-level.
It’s heartening to think of some of our local young adults as prospective marine scientists. However, for them, it’s hard to imagine what Marine Science as a college course, or life after it, consists of when they’re in school, strained by subjects and primed for achievement. So I’ve been asked to offer a flavour of how life might be if you choose marine science as a third-level option.
The nearest course, and the one I chose, is a BSc in Marine Science in NUI Galway. There, the first three years are spent gradually moving from general science studies to one specialised field of interest. This usually falls between Botany (marine plants), Zoology (marine animals), Oceanography (chemical and physical properties of the ocean) and Microbiology (tiny marine bacteria and plankton).
In fourth year, you are treated as a fellow researcher and most of this intense but rewarding year is devoted to a research project in your field. Projects range from studying the chemical composition of brown seaweed to looking at how the freshwater of the Corrib interacts with the saltwater of Galway Bay and studying otters’ diets on Clare Island and heaps more in-between. There’s an active diving club in NUIG and everyone is encouraged to get in the water and become intimate with our marine life as much as possible. During the summer, work placements and bursaries are offered in the Marine Institute’s outposts around the country, including Newport.
After a degree in Marine Science, what then? From my class, some have continued to research, completing post-graduate studies in Ireland looking at cold-water corals a few hundred miles off the Mayo coast or in Australia studying warm water corals in the Great Barrier Reef. Some are researching cod-rearing in Carna, rearing aquarium fish in Co Clare or habitat-mapping in Cork; others are in the UK studying the chemical make-up of the North Atlantic. Research options are always good in marine science, but be prepared to travel. At least a few are working in education, from the Heritage Council to the Irish post-primary system.
It won’t always be obliging dolphins and good times though; science is essentially about the truth and as a future marine scientist, you will be tasked with creating and applying knowledge to ensure that Ireland’s resources (or the resources of wherever you find yourself) are explained and maintained. A considerable duty these days.
CAO applicants can change their mind up to July 1. If you have any more queries, don’t hesitate to send me an email at

John Paul Tiernan, Louisburgh, runs, a website dedicated to the creation of knowledge of our marine ecosystems. He is currently studying for an MSc in Marine Science.