Postgraduate Course

MSc Tropical Marine Biology

MSc Tropical Marine Biology


The details
Tropical Marine Biology
October 2024
1 year
Colchester Campus

Coral reefs are the most species-rich marine habitats, and also among the most threatened. Rapid global change has the potential to cause significant harm to these unique ecosystems and impact the local and global resources they provide.

By studying MSc Tropical Marine Biology in our School of Life Sciences you will enjoy a unique training experience, designed to provide you with the specific tools to study and protect fragile marine systems.

Our multidisciplinary course is delivered entirely by research-active academics who are among the leaders of their respective disciplines. Advanced theory in tropical marine biology is complemented by practical skills training in quantitative methods, data analytics, field survey techniques and a comprehensive range of the practical and professional skills required by today's employers.

During a field trip to Indonesia you can put theory into practice by studying coral reef conservation in action (subsidised, with a variable element to be paid by the student). Or, we can help you to identify your ideal work placement or equivalent project in the UK.

Our MSc Tropical Marine Biology course will introduce you to the unique resources found in tropical oceans through modules focusing on:

  • The biotechnological ‘treasure chest' of marine microbes, algae and invertebrates. What processes underpin a healthy marine ecosystem? How can we use microbes to clean up pollution and make new eco-friendly materials from aquaculture waste?
  • Quantitative analysis of ecological processes in the tropical oceans, from seagrass beds and mangroves to coral reefs and artificial communities growing on man-made structures. How do you measure and compare populations and communities?
  • Coral reef resource management and conservation. How can local communities protect coral reefs while practising traditional activities and sustainably harvesting food?

In addition to taught modules covering these topics and more, you will embark on an extensive research project under the supervision of an expert at the forefront of their field. You will have the freedom to choose the subject of your project, which can be conducted in field, within our new aquatic biology research facility, in a working academic research laboratory on campus or alongside one of our research partners across the globe. The project is your chance to develop the specific experience that you will need to go into employment generating ecological survey data, prospecting for pharmaceuticals, practising data analytics, GIS mapping or directing environmental policy.

We're ranked 31st for promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on life below water (Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2023). Learn more about the THE Impact Rankings 2023 as well as the partnership between The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the University of Essex to collaborate on training and research related to aquatic ecosystem science.

Visit our MSc Marine Science and Sustainable Development course page for information about our other marine postgraduate degree.

Sustainability at Essex

To learn about the initiatives and actions the University of Essex is taking to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, visit our sustainability page.

Why we're great.
  • Develop the quantitative transferrable skills that are demanded by employers in the environmental sciences sector.
  • Get hands-on experience of coral reef conservation in Indonesia and in brand new aquatic biology aquaria on campus.
  • Understand the ‘big picture' of marine conservation, from genes to ecosystems and from ecology to industrial applications.

Our expert staff

As one of the largest schools at our University, we offer a lively, friendly and supportive environment with research-led study and high-quality teaching. You will benefit will from the wide expertise of our research-active academics and their pioneering work on marine issues of national and global importance.

Current research topics include nationally and internationally recognised work on movement of life in the oceans, contributions to climate change from aquatic systems, sustainable fisheries and deep-sea biology. Our School houses expertise in community ecology of coral reefs, tropical marine biology and conservation, coral stress physiology, aquatic community ecology, fisheries, pollution, biological materials, nutrient cycling and ecological and evolutionary responses to global change, with contributions to international research efforts in all of these areas.

We are proud that one third of students at the University of Essex are from outside of the UK. The University has a Women's Network to support female staff and students, and the School of Life Sciences has been awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award (2020) reflecting the work carried out by staff in our School to improve equality, including a mentorship scheme, support for postdoctoral research staff and financial help towards childcare costs for academics who wish to attend conferences.

Specialist facilities

Our School of Life Sciences contains fantastic, modern facilities for bioscience research. Most of the techniques we use routinely are available, where appropriate, to our students during their research projects. All laboratory spaces are shared, meaning that you will work alongside your fellow students, PhD students and even post-doctoral researchers.

Recent investments in research infrastructure include cutting edge bioimaging systems, videoscopy for behavioural research, brand new recirculating aquaria in the aquatic biology research labs and numerous accessory facilities for aquatic community ecology, photosynthesis and eco-physiology research.

Your future

As mankind's impacts on the environment become increasingly clear, the demand for qualified marine biologists continues to grow. Postgraduate study can be a requirement for a career in scientific research and help immensely when applying for jobs in consultancy, publishing, government, private industry or the third sector.

Many of our Masters students progress into PhD study, and we offer numerous studentships to support this career path.

Our graduates go on to a range of careers. Some work with governmental and non-governmental environmental agencies, organisations, consultancies and voluntary organisations, or go on to conduct doctoral research. Many overseas students return to comparable posts in their home country.

We work with the University's Careers Services to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

Entry requirements

UK entry requirements

A degree with a 2.2 in one of the following subjects:

  • Environmental Sciences
  • Marine Biology
  • Marine Chemistry
  • Marine Ecology and Conservation
  • Marine Science
  • Oceanography
  • Tropical Biology


A 2:2 degree in any subject with three modules from the below list:

  • Aquatic/Marine Ecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation
  • Marine Science
  • Oceanography

We will also consider applicants with 2 out of the 3 above modules

Applicants without the required subject, modules or with a lower level degree will also be considered where they also have at least 6 weeks' relevant work experience in marine/ environmental science and/or conservation (marine conservation organisation (NGO or governmental), fisheries organisation, tourism organisation with relevant diving (e.g. SCUBA instructor, expedition leader for volunteer organisation, coral restoration with hotel), teaching a relevant subject.

International & EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Get in touch with any questions you may have about the qualifications we accept. Remember to tell us about the qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

Sorry, the entry requirements for the country that you have selected are not available here. Please select your country page where you'll find this information.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, we require IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum score of 5.5 in all components.

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

Additional Notes

The University uses academic selection criteria to determine an applicant’s ability to successfully complete a course at the University of Essex. Where appropriate, we may ask for specific information relating to previous modules studied or work experience.


Course structure

Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field. The following modules are based on the current course structure and may change in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.

We understand that deciding where and what to study is a very important decision for you. We'll make all reasonable efforts to provide you with the courses, services and facilities as described on our website and in line with your contract with us. However, if we need to make material changes, for example due to significant disruption, we'll let our applicants and students know as soon as possible.

Components and modules explained


Components are the blocks of study that make up your course. A component may have a set module which you must study, or a number of modules from which you can choose.

Each component has a status and carries a certain number of credits towards your qualification.

Status What this means
You must take the set module for this component and you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
Core with Options
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component but you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
You must take the set module for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
Compulsory with Options
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.

The modules that are available for you to choose for each component will depend on several factors, including which modules you have chosen for other components, which modules you have completed in previous years of your course, and which term the module is taught in.


Modules are the individual units of study for your course. Each module has its own set of learning outcomes and assessment criteria and also carries a certain number of credits.

In most cases you will study one module per component, but in some cases you may need to study more than one module. For example, a 30-credit component may comprise of either one 30-credit module, or two 15-credit modules, depending on the options available.

Modules may be taught at different times of the year and by a different department or school to the one your course is primarily based in. You can find this information from the module code. For example, the module code HR100-4-FY means:

HR 100  4  FY

The department or school the module will be taught by.

In this example, the module would be taught by the Department of History.

The module number. 

The UK academic level of the module.

A standard undergraduate course will comprise of level 4, 5 and 6 modules - increasing as you progress through the course.

A standard postgraduate taught course will comprise of level 7 modules.

A postgraduate research degree is a level 8 qualification.

The term the module will be taught in.

  • AU: Autumn term
  • SP: Spring term
  • SU: Summer term
  • FY: Full year 
  • AP: Autumn and Spring terms
  • PS: Spring and Summer terms
  • AS: Autumn and Summer terms




Tropical Marine Systems

This module aims to widen the understanding of tropical marine systems, the diversity of organisms that exist, the roles they play as well as the fundamental biological processes that enable these organisms to thrive. Explore four main tropical habitats: coral reefs, tropical oceans, seagrass beds, and mangrove systems, and discover the key functional roles of photosynthetic producers (corals, algae, cyanobacteria, plants) and heterotrophic consumers (planktonic, benthic and pelagic invertebrates and vertebrates). Learn how to evaluate ecological and biogeochemical processes within tropical marine systems and their productivity, connectivity and resilience.

View Tropical Marine Systems on our Module Directory


Marine Resources

This module explores the mariculture and fisheries in tropical seas as well as the biotechnological 'treasure chest' provided by marine microbes, algae and invertebrates.

View Marine Resources on our Module Directory


Methods in Marine Biology

The overall aim of this module is to sharpen the skill base in practical research by introducing a range of methodologies to aid in the investigation of marine processes. Focus on some components of bio-geochemistry, physiology, data analysis and visualisation, and biotechnology, and develop the four of the most wanted cross-disciplinary skills (multi-disciplinary, data management, numeracy, and translating research into practice) which will help you effectively operate as a professional marine biologist.

View Methods in Marine Biology on our Module Directory


Postgraduate Professional Skills

In this career-focused module you develop skills specific to your discipline, such as critical analysis, integration and communication in a multidisciplinary research environment. Study how to utilise modern learning environments and how to apply statistical methods in handling, analysing and interpreting large datasets in R, the software environment for statistical computing and graphics. The seminars and workshops cover CV and application clinics, facilitate expedition planning, introduce health and safety aspects of practical work, and increase numeracy skills.

View Postgraduate Professional Skills on our Module Directory


Data Analysis and Visualisation

This module provides you with the opportunity to improve your data analysis and visualisation skills. The ability to critically analyse raw data, and to communicate findings from these analyses in appropriate formats in a multidisciplinary research environment, provides the foundation for your successful career in environmental sciences.

View Data Analysis and Visualisation on our Module Directory


BS710-7-AP or BS711-7-AP


  • We teach using a combination of lectures, laboratory practicals, tutorials, seminars, optional fieldwork, independent reading and research projects
  • Postgraduate Taught students in the School of Life Sciences typically attend about 10 hours of workshops, lectures, seminars and practicals each week
  • Gain practical experience on our annual trip to Indonesia (optional)


  • Our modules are assessed by coursework only, including essays, worksheets, verbal/visual presentations and written reviews


  • Each student is assigned a supervisor to provide guidance on their research project
  • Conducted within our in-house Coral Reef Research Unit, or alongside one of our research partners from across the globe
  • During the latter stages of your project, you compile a detailed report (in scientific paper format) including a literature review

Fees and funding

Home/UK fee


International fee


What's next

Open Days

We hold Open Days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

2024 Open Days (Colchester Campus)

  • Saturday 15 June 2024 - June Open Day
  • Saturday 21 September 2024 - September Open Day
  • Saturday 26 October 2024 - October Open Day


You can apply for this postgraduate course online. Before you apply, please check our information about necessary documents that we'll ask you to provide as part of your application.

We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

For information on our deadline to apply for this course, please see our ‘how to apply' information.

A sunny day with banners flying on Colchester Campus Square 4.

Visit Colchester Campus

Set within 200 acres of award-winning parkland - Wivenhoe Park and located two miles from the historic city centre of Colchester – England's oldest recorded development. Our Colchester Campus is also easily reached from London and Stansted Airport in under one hour.

View from Square 2 outside the Rab Butler Building looking towards Square 3

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

At Essex we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive student community. We offer a wide range of support to individuals and groups of student members who may have specific requirements, interests or responsibilities.

Find out more

The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its programme specification is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include, but are not limited to: strikes, other industrial action, staff illness, severe weather, fire, civil commotion, riot, invasion, terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack (whether declared or not), natural disaster, restrictions imposed by government or public authorities, epidemic or pandemic disease, failure of public utilities or transport systems or the withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications. The University would inform and engage with you if your course was to be discontinued, and would provide you with options, where appropriate, in line with our Compensation and Refund Policy.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.

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