School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Marine Biology

In this hands-on degree you’ll explore the organisms living in marine environments from the coastal margins to the deep sea. Teaching takes advantage of the stunning coastline on the doorstep of the University as well as some of Europe’s best marine facilities, so you won’t just experience marine biology but also practise it at the highest levels, both in the laboratory and field.

You'll study the biology of organisms ranging from coral reef microbes and marine algae at the base of marine ecosystems to the diverse invertebrates, abundant fishes and largest mammals that roam the ocean. You’ll apply this knowledge to understand how marine life is impacted by factors such as climate change and pollution. This degree not only teaches you about the subject, it also equips you with the practical, intellectual and scientific skills to be a practising marine biologist.

Marine biology courses

This is one of three marine biology undergraduate courses we offer, which are closely integrated.

Key features

  • Ranked top 15 in the UK and top 100 globally for Earth and Marine Sciences in the .
  • Explore the full diversity of marine life, from microscopic plankton to iconic marine mammals. Study marine organisms from every angle including how they work, develop and behave and where they are found, how they have evolved and what the future holds for them.
  • 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.
  • Benefit from a strong emphasis on the biology of marine organisms, experimental design, practical and field skills in the lab and at sea.
  • Choose optional modules which interest you, such as Scientific Diving which 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.
  • Access the University’s research vessels based in the Plymouth Sound Special Area for Conservation and our Marine Station.
  • LABplus Resource Centre 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 made the subject interesting (source: ).
  • Opportunities to gain extra experience working in one of the marine research organisations located in Plymouth, alongside your studies. The University enjoys strong links with the internationally renowned marine research establishments based in the city, including the Diving Diseases Research Centre, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science.
  • Increase your knowledge and apply your skills in an international setting, with two residential field courses abroad (France and Portugal) that give you the chance to study marine organisms not found in UK waters.
  • Take the opportunity to gain experience and learn new skills in an optional placement in your third year.
  • Widen your knowledge in an area of interest with a major personal research project conducted in your final year.
  • 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 learn how marine biology research gets funded in the UK in a unique role play event. There is also the opportunity to gain the HSE Professional SCUBA commercial diver 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

    • Cells: The Building Blocks of Life (BIOL131)

      The cell is the basic building block of life. This module introduces you to the structure of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and the cell biology that allow different cells to do different things including some highly specialised cells of multicellular organisms. The module will then focus on the molecular basis that underlies cell function introducing you to the metabolic pathways and molecules that allow cells to work.

    • Introduction to Marine Biology (MBIO120)

      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.

    • Marine Biology Field Course (MBIO123)

      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.

    • Evolution and Behaviour (MBIO161)

      Covers the principles underpinning evolution with a special focus on animal behaviour as adaptive traits. Module covers concepts of the genetic basis of inheritance, population genetics, selection, adaptation, function, fitness and speciation. We will use key examples and practical classes to illustrate key ideas and consider the development of some of the ideas in a historical context.

    • Biodiversity (MBIO162)

      This module introduces the scientific study of biodiversity. Starting with the question what is biodiversity? students go on to explore where it is, how it is distributed across the Earth, and how we value it. This leads to a discussion of how biodiversity is threatened and how we conserve it. Embedded in this big picture is an introduction to the biology of some key taxa that characterise biodiversity.

    • Physical and Chemical Processes of the Ocean (OS102)

      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.

  • Year 2

  • In your second year, you’ll sharpen your practical skills in the setting of the South Devon coastline, just minutes away. We’ll introduce you to methods for collecting, handling and analysing scientific data, as well engaging with the biology of marine organisms and the ecology of shallow water marine habitats. Depending on your choice of modules, you can receive training in underwater sampling and all students will explore experimental methods during a field course that currently takes place in Portugal.

    Core modules

    • Ecology of Shallow Water Marine Habitats (MBIO217)

      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.

    • Ecophysiology of Marine Animals (MBIO222)

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

    • Experimental Marine Biology Field Course (MBIO226)

      The ability to accurately describe organisms and the environments in which they live; and to design, conduct, analyse and present the outcomes of experiments is fundamental to scientific advancement. Conducted during a residential overseas field course, this module focuses on practical field- and laboratory-based study of aquatic habitats, assemblages and organisms.

    • Biology of Marine Organisms (MBIO228)

      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.

    • Methods in Marine Biology, Coastal Ecology and Oceanography (MBIO229)

      Provides the core skills and techniques to equip students to perform field studies in Marine Biology, Coastal Ecology 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.

    Optional modules

    • Ecology (BIOL214)

      You will understand the basic concepts needed to solve ecological problems - individual, population and community ecology. You will explore a range of examples from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, which will provide a useful insight into the search for general theories of ecology.

    • Marine Molecular Biology (MBIO221)

      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.

    • Scientific Diving (OS207)

      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 do a work placement, for a six or 12-month period.

    Core modules

    • Marine Biology related Placement (BPIE336)

      An optional six- to twelve-month placement provides a valuable complement to your programme and is an opportunity for you to widen your employment experience and to consolidate the first two stages of study. Whether you work with conservation organisations, consultancies, research institutions or a company of your choice, you can take the opportunity to gain valuable experience and learn new skills to prepare you for the final stage of your degree 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 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, while studying at the cutting edge of marine biology.

    Core modules

    • Marine Biology: An Evolutionary Approach (MBIO329)

      This module is a discussion of recent advances in selected areas of marine biology but within an explicitly evolutionary context. There is a strong emphasis on critical evaluation of relevant primary literature.

    • SoBMS Project (PROJ302)

      This module provides an opportunity to undertake a research project on an individually developed topic and experience the entire process of scholarly research: from problem formulation, through the design and execution of an investigation, analysis of results and presentation of outcomes. It will develop skills in independent working and self-awareness in relation to personal, professional and academic development.

    Optional modules

    • Ecotoxicology (BIOL311)

      You will gain a detailed understanding of concepts and principles of environmental hazard and risk assessment with an emphasis on the evaluation of the ecotoxicological methods used in the assessment of pollutants on the aquatic environment.

    • Aquatic Microbial Ecology (BIOL322)

      This module covers methodologies and current research in aquatic microbial ecology. You will study microbial life from all three domains of life - the Eukarya, Bacteria and Archaea as well as viruses. You will cover freshwater (lakes, rivers), marine (polar ice caps, neuston, benthic plain, hydrothermal vents) and hypersaline (playas, soda lakes) ecosystems as well as flora and fauna of these ecosystems as habitats.

    • Behavioural Ecology (MBIO317)

      You will understand the theory underpinning key conceptual models in behavioural ecology such as foraging, distribution and game theory. You will critically discuss and evaluate these models in relation to empirical studies.

    • Speciation and Diversity (MBIO324)

      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.

    • Marine Ecology (MBIO327)

      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.

    • Ecology and Conservation of Marine Vertebrates (MBIO339)

      You will understand the risks of depletion of marine vertebrates owing to fishing, industrial development, pollution and habitat degradation. You will examine the ecology of these organisms in their natural environments and will explore methods for surveying, monitoring and managing populations and species.

    • Fish and Fisheries (MBIO363)

      This module examines aspects of fish biology and fisheries science in relation to real-world challenges of managing fish populations sustainably. This is an integrative module, which builds on fundamental principles in fish physiology, behaviour or ecology, and examines how these underpin frameworks for fisheries science.

    • Conservation Physiology (MBIO364)

      This module introduces learners to this emerging field of conservation through a lecture-discussion based format. This module explores fundamental physiology principles and approaches that have been used to inform the conservation of marine species and ecosystems challenged by natural and anthropogenic stressors.

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 Programme Specification September 2024 0732

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
120-144 points from a minimum of 3 A levels, including Biology and preferably further relevant Science subjects. Qualifying relevant science subjects are: Applied Science, Applied Marine Science, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. General Studies is excluded. Points can include a relevant Extended Project (EPQ) but must include 3 A levels.
International Baccalaureate
30-36 overall, to include Higher Level Biology and preferably further relevant Science subjects. Qualifying relevant Science subjects are: Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. English and Maths are accepted within as GCSE equivalent at Higher Level Grade 4 or Standard Level Grade 5.
BTEC RQF National Extended Diploma/ QCF Extended Diploma
A typical offer would be DDM, depending on the BTEC and units studied. Please include details of units in your UCAS application or contact Admissions for further advice.
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
Science related Access Diplomas are considered. Must include a minimum 15 credits in biology units, plus 15 credits at maths, physics, chemistry, environmental science/studies, applied science, geography, geology or technology or psychology. Typically, we would require 30 Level 3 credits at Distinction and 15 Level 3 credits at Merit.
All applicants must have GCSE (or equivalent) English and Mathematics at grade C / 4 or above.
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.
We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

Fees, costs and funding

Student 2023-2024 2024-2025
Home £9,250 £9,250
International £16,300 £18,100
Part time (Home) £770 £770
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per 10 credits. Please note that fees are reviewed on an annual basis. Fees and the conditions that apply to them shown in the prospectus are correct at the time of going to print. Fees shown on the web are the most up to date but are still subject to change in exceptional circumstances. More information about fees and funding.

Additional costs

This course is delivered by the Faculty of Science and Engineering and more details of any additional costs associated with the faculty's courses are listed on the following page: Additional fieldwork and equipment costs.

Tuition fees for optional placement years

The fee for all undergraduate students completing any part of their placement year in the UK in 2023/2024 is £1,850.
The fee for all undergraduate students completing their whole placement year outside the UK in 2023/2024 is £1,385.
Learn more about placement year tuition fees

Undergraduate scholarships for international students

To reward outstanding achievement the University of Plymouth offers scholarship schemes to help towards funding your studies.

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 .
Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email

Progression routes

International progression routes

The offers foundation, first-year and pre-masters programmes that lead to University of Plymouth degrees. Courses are specially designed for EU and international students who are missing the grades for direct entry to the University, and include full duration visa sponsorship. You can start in January, May or September, benefitting from small class sizes, top-quality tuition and 24/7 student support.
Find out more at or contact our team at

Studying marine biology at Plymouth

Professor Richard Thompson OBE describes the variety of marine courses available to study at the University of Plymouth.

Welcome to marine biology at Plymouth

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

Careers in marine biology

Whether you want to become a lab technician or work in the field of conservation, we’ll assist you throughout your degree to ensure that by the time you graduate you’ll be en route to the career of your choice. As a Marine Biology student, your career options are as expansive as the oceans you study.
Students on the Scientific Diving Module, using our current camera systems available to students

Field courses in marine biology

Field work is central to our three marine biology courses. We are proud to offer an extensive range of field work activities, both locally, making the most of our privileged location, and internationally, with residential field courses in South Africa, Sweden and Portugal.
Our field courses are designed by and for Marine Biologists, so that you achieve skills specific to your degree, and immerse yourself in marine biology from the first day.
Marine biology students on a beach

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. Please note that places on the course are offered subject to availability.
Diving in Plymouth Sound

Pursuing a career in research

"If you want to just read about marine biology, then anywhere will be fine. However, if you want to live marine biology then it has to be Plymouth. The course offers the opportunity to study under experts in their fields – from microbes to mammals – with outstanding facilities, both in the UK and overseas. Plymouth is Britain’s Ocean City for a reason."
Davis Laundon graduated from BSc (Hons) Marine Biology in 2017 and is currently employed as a PhD student by The Marine Biological Association (MBA) in Plymouth. Learn more about Davis.
Davis Laundon

Studying at Plymouth

Find out more about opportunities at Plymouth.

Fieldwork on the beach

We’re lucky to have an incredibly diverse range of rich coastal habitats around the Devon and Cornwall coastline.

Pilot whale pod - image courtesy of Getty Images

Scholarships available to students on marine biology and conservation courses
The University of Plymouth is joining forces with the Ocean Giants Trust to create a series of exciting new opportunities for its marine students.

PALS hero

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.


Meet our school technical staff

Our technical staff are integral to the delivery of all our programmes and bring a diverse range of expertise and skills to support students in laboratories, workshops, and the field.

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*These are the latest results from the National Student Survey. Please note that the data published on is updated annually in September.