Master of Science, majoring in Marine Biology and Ecology

Courses and Study Australian courses Master of Science, majoring in Marine Biology and Ecology

James Cook University (JCU) is the premier research and education institution for Marine Biology in the Tropics. Our program is taught by leading experts in coral reef science, marine conservation, tropical fisheries science, reef and estuarine ecology, and marine and coastal resource management.

Studying at JCU will enable you to develop your professional skills to address the critical challenges facing marine and coastal ecosystems. Our Marine Biology courses are designed around field experiences, including studying on location in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and are informed by our world leading research findings.

Start dates
February, July
1.5 years full-time
Part time available
Study mode
On campus

Career opportunities

This course is ideal for students wanting to develop careers as research scientists, educators, environmental managers, consultants, biologists, ecologists, conservation agents, science communicators, or as field and laboratory technicians with a marine emphasis.

Our graduates are sought after by a broad range of employers, nationally and internationally, including high profile environmental management and consultant agencies, government departments, scientific research institutes, commercial ventures, education, tourism and media groups.

JCU's Master of Science in Marine Biology graduates may find jobs in the following areas:

  • Scientific research institutes
  • Regional and national government bodies
  • Non-government and/or not for profit organisations locally, regionally and internationally.
  • Environmental consultancies
  • Fisheries and environmental management
  • Education organisations, ranging from tertiary institutes to community based organisations.
  • Commercial industry and resource developers
  • Environmental advocacy groups
  • Local, regional and international business and tourism operators.

The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing unprecedented economic and population growth. The demands on marine and coastal resources are similarly enormous. Equip yourself as a premier marine biologist, manager or scientist capable of addressing the grand challenges of the tropical world and beyond.

Course highlights

JCU is the leading education and research institution for Marine Biology in the Tropics. Our unique location enables students from Australia and overseas to study in a diverse physical environment unparalleled by any university in the world.

The postgraduate degree program in Marine Biology is internationally recognised. We focus on developing career professionals who can address the grand challenges for marine and coastal ecosystems, particularly in the tropical Asia-Pacific region. You will be researching and tackling issues such as:

  • Climate change, ecosystem resilience and adaptation
  • Ecosystem restoration
  • Environmental and ecological sustainability
  • Biodiversity and conservation challenges for marine organisms and ecosystems
  • Sustainable marine resource management
  • Global and regional food security
  • Sustainable livelihoods for coastal and island based societies.

Our course integrates the latest research from our prestigious research groups in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Science, the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), and the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture. Our students make the most of their opportunities to actively engage with our research programs and our global research leaders. Many of our graduates go on to develop their skills and become leading researchers in organisations around the world.

Here in tropical northern Australia we work in collaboration the world’s premier practitioners in marine research, reef, coastal and island management, Indigenous and traditional resource management, commercial and recreational fisheries, eco-tourism operations, marine educators, and coastal resource development industries. Throughout your degree you will be directly engaging with these partners to learn and apply skills relevant to the ‘real world’ and develop your own professional networks.

Course overview

The course enables graduates to develop their knowledge and skills in quantitative marine ecology, conservation biology, and the biology, life history and taxonomy of tropical marine organisms. You will study tropical marine systems with emphasis on coral reefs and surrounding waters, seagrass, mangrove assemblages and the adjacent sandy and rocky shores. There is an emphasis on whole organism biology, the ecology and biogeography of tropical marine organisms, and the evolutionary mechanisms that underlie their diversity.

In this degree you will acquire the following core knowledge and skills:

  • Understanding of marine biology with a focus on tropical ecosystems and organisms
  • Quantitative analytical skills, including data management, quantitative statistics, ecological modelling and sampling design.
  • Practical laboratory and field skills for doing innovative research and biodiversity assessments in marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • Understanding and experience in best-practice marine conservation and management applications
  • Research innovation and project management
  • Interdisciplinary communication skills, with specialisations in scientific communication.

Our proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, and our location in the Asia-Pacific region provides students with unparalleled opportunities for investigating ecological and evolutionary questions for reef fish, corals, and other marine organisms. Our students regularly utilise these research facilities and locations during their studies:

This major is currently only offered in Townsville.

The course architecture is comprised of both intensive and semester-long subjects. Advanced research skills are embedded in all our subjects, and we include options for independent research projects and/or vocational placements with our research, management and industry partners.

For more information regarding this course, please contact Dr Naomi Gardiner.

How to apply

Complete an online application through our Online Application Portal.


MSc – Marine Biology and Ecology Major

Major code


Credit points

36 credit points

Major Structure


MB5004:03 Marine Conservation Biology or MB5260:03 Ecological Dynamics: An Introduction to Modelling

MB5160:03 Evolution and Ecology of Reef Fishes or MB5190:03 Coral Reef Ecology or MB5400:03 Life History and Evolution of Reef Corals

MB5300:03 Sampling and Experimental Design or MB5230:03 Design and Analyses in Ecological Studies

SC5055:03 Research and Communication Skills in the Natural Sciences


Select 6 credit points of specified level 5 science subjects

AQ5007:03 Aquatic Animal Ecophysiology

BZ5001:03 Quantitative Methods in Science

BZ5220:03 Population and Community Ecology

BZ5440:03 Ecology and Conservation

BZ5640:03 Marine Plants and Algae in their Environments

EV5203:03 Conserving Marine Wildlife: Sea Mammals, Birds, Reptiles

EV5505:03 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

MB5004:03 Marine Conservation Biology

MB5070:03 Marine Evolution and Biogeography

MB5160:03 Evolution and Ecology of Reef Fishes

MB5190:03 Coral Reef Ecology

MB5230:03 Design and Analyses in Ecological Studies

MB5260:03 Ecological Dynamics: An Introduction to Modelling

MB5300:03 Sampling and Experimental Design

MB5350:03 Current Issues in Coral Reef Ecology

MB5380:03 Invertebrate Biology

MB5400:03 Life History and Evolution of Reef Corals

MB5430:03 Behaviour of Marine Animals

MB5550:03 Biology of Reef Corals


Select 18 credit points of any level 5 AQ, BC, BZ, EV, MB, MI, SC, TO or TV subjects. This list includes research options.

Pathway into course

Please consult the admission requirements section in the Handbook for prerequisites and pathways into this course.


Master of Science

Course code


Course type

Masters Degree (Coursework) (AQF Level 9)


Tropical Environments and Societies

Award Requirements

Admission Requirements

Course pre-requisites

Completion of an AQF level 7 bachelor degree in Science; or equivalent.

Minimum English language proficiency requirements

Applicants of non-English speaking backgrounds must meet the English language proficiency requirements of Band 1 Schedule II of the JCU Admissions Policy.

Post Admission requirements

Some majors require attendance at block mode subjects on either the Townsville or Cairns campus.  Students may be required to attend block mode classes at a campus other than that at which they are enrolled, at their own expense.

Academic Requirements for Course Completion

Credit points

36 credit points as per course structure

Course learning outcomes

On successful completion, graduates will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced level of scientific knowledge from with their chosen major

  • Critically analyse scientific theory, models, concepts and techniques from within their chosen major

  • Critically read and evaluate quantitative and qualitative research findings from within their chosen major

  • Apply analytic tools and methodologies to define and describe scientific problems from within their chosen major

  • Communicate effectively and persuasively, both orally and in writing.

Course Structure


Select a discipline area (major)


Type of major



Credit points in major

36 credit points




Aquaculture Science and Technology



Environmental Earth Science




Environmental Marine Science

Townsville (Suspended 2015-2017)


Fisheries Biology and Management



Marine Biology and Ecology



Natural Resource Management


Cairns (Suspended 2017)


Protected Area Management


Cairns (Suspended 2017)

Tropical Biology and Conservation







Not all majors available in Cairns




Expected time to complete

18 months full-time or equivalent part-time

Maximum time to complete

5 years

Maximum leave of absence

2 years


Course progression requisites


Course includes mandatory professional placement(s)


Special assessment requirements


Professional accreditation requirements


Maximum allowed Pass Conceded (PC) grade


Supplementary exam for final subject

Not applicable

Advanced Standing


Students may apply for advanced standing for previous tertiary study in accordance with the Advanced Standing and Articulation policy and associated procedures.

Maximum allowed

12 credit points, unless part of an approved articulation process.


Advanced standing will be granted only for studies completed in the 10 years prior to the commencement of this course.


Advanced standing gained for any subject shall be cancelled 15 years after the date of the examination upon which the advanced standing is based if, by then, the student has not completed the course of study prescribed for the degree.

Other restrictions


Award Details

Award title


Approved abbreviations


Inclusion of majors on testamur

The major studied shall appear on the testamur.

Exit with lesser award

Students who exit the course prior to completion, and have completed the appropriate number of credit points, may, depending on the subjects studied, be eligible to receive the award of either the Graduate Certificate of Science or the Graduate Diploma of Science.

Course articulation

Not applicable

This website is intended as general guide. Prospective students should contact the university to confirm admission requirements and the availability of courses. James Cook University reserves the right to alter any course or admission requirement without prior notice.