The 10 Best Marine Biology Schools in Florida

If you could spend your day doing anything without having to worry about a job or other obligations, what would you do? 

If your answer includes activities such as going to the beach, wading through the water, and looking at the sea life, marine biology might be the career for you. 

A degree in marine biology, or sometimes called marine sciences, trains students in not only science and biology fundamentals, but also the specifics of working with fish, coral, and other aquatic life forms. 

People with marine biology degrees go on to work as professional divers, conservation specialists, or undersea scientists. From jobs actively saving the planet to scholarly work studying the development of dolphins and crabs, a marine biology degree is the best educational path for anyone who loves the water. 

Unsurprisingly, marine biology programs have a few tried and true requirements, starting with access to the ocean. No matter how great a school might be, it can’t train excellent marine scientists unless it lets them get in the water and get their hands wet. 

For that reason, Florida is the ideal state for this line of work. Most of the best schools in the sunshine state have some sort of marine biology program, but they’re not all of the same quality. 

This list breaks down the ten best marine biology programs in Florida. While the programs might go under a different name, they are all excellent choices for anyone who prefers to do their studies on the beach instead of in the classroom. 

Here are 10 of the best marine biology programs in Florida.

New College of Florida (Sarasota, FL)

New College of Florida
Upstateherd, New College of Florida’s College Hall & Cook Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Located on the Sarasota Bay, the New College of Florida’s marine biology program boasts small classes and concentrated attention to help train the next generation of experts. 

With a focus on foundational sciences, the New College gives students everything they need to go on to satisfying careers in oceanography, marine biology, and many other similar fields. 

But the key draw to the New College is the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center. The Center is a state-of-the-art facility featuring over 100 aquaria in which students can do their work, including a 15,000-gallon tank for display and research. 

Thanks to a filtration system designed by students, the Center uses waters from Sarasota Bay, giving them access to natural habitats in a controlled environment. 

Combined with the school’s experienced faculty, the marine biology program at the New College of Florida offers an innovative and expansive education. 

University of Tampa (Tampa, FL)

Students pursuing a marine science biology degree at the University of Tampa don’t do their best learning in a classroom. Rather, they get their hands dirty, performing research right alongside their teachers and mentors. 

Leading these research projects are professors such as Heather Mason. A specialist in shallow coastal ecosystems, Dr. Mason has studied the dwarf seahorse and the gulf pipefish. Dr. Mason’s most recent work expands to include sea life across the globe. 

In addition to teaching in the Biology Department at the University of Tampa, Professor Mason Meers serves as editor of The Bibliography of Crocodilian Biology. Professor Meers’s work looks at the evolution of tetrapods on the morphological and population levels. He is involved in an ongoing research project that examines the cranial morphometrics of American alligators. 

Working alongside teachers such as these gives University of Tampa students hands-on experience before entering the workforce. 

Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)

Rollins College
Ebyabe, Rollins College Cornell Museum01, CC BY-SA 3.0

While every school on this list features proximity to wetland areas, Rollins College is uniquely situated to provide access to a variety of lifeforms. In no more than 90 minutes, students can drive to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. In a few hours, students can even reach the Florida Keys.

As this description suggests, variety is the key to the marine biology program at Rollins College. With small classes of no more than 12 members each, Rollins gives unprecedented attention to each student, allowing them to be the driving force in their education. Furthermore, the school expands its opportunities thanks to partnerships with facilities such as the Duke University Marine Lab.  

With that support, it’s no wonder that Rollins grads have gone on to careers at institutions such as Nova Southeastern University’s Cell Therapy Institute and the Cedar Key Dolphin Project.

University of West Florida (Pensacola, FL)

To earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology at Pensacola’s University of West Florida, students need to have a love of hands-on study and practical application. That’s because they’ll receive their training not just on U of West Florida’s campus, but out in the world. 

That expansive training includes the Gulf Islands Research and Education Center, which the school operates with the Gulf Islands National Seashore. 

In addition to the national resources protected and made available for study, the Center also serves as an international research hub. Every year, the Center and U of West Florida invite thousands of scientists and students from institutions across the country to share their work. 

Additionally, students get to partner with professors who continue to make a real difference in the world. Those professors include Dr. Alexis Janosik, whose work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes an inventory of the Gulf of Mexico’s reef fish communities.

Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Nova Southeastern University
Dgreco, HPDatnsu, CC BY-SA 3.0

At Nova Southeastern University, students in the marine sciences program take full advantage of the school’s oceanographic campus. Located next to Mizell and Johnson State Park, on the entrance channel of Port Everglades, the oceanographic campus covers 10 acres of land on the Atlantic coastline. 

Within the oceanographic area, one can find the Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center. Constructed for $50 million in 2012, the 87,000 sq. ft. facility boasts several labs to support every aspect of marine sciences. 

For example, the Stony Coral Laboratory facilitates sclerochronology. Sclerochronologists create reconstructions of coral environments in their former states by studying the time-dependent growth of the coral skeleton. These reconstructions allow researchers to understand the ocean’s climate histories better. 

These labs give Nova Southeastern’s expert faculty and student body space and support to further our understanding of the subject. 

Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, FL)

Eckerd College
Elisa.rolle, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL, CC BY-SA 4.0

Students working toward a marine sciences degree at Eckerd College have the opportunity to participate in several advanced research projects. 

Founded in 1993, the Eckerd College Dolphin Project studies bottlenose dolphins in Tampa Bay. Under the leadership of Eckerd professors Shannon Gowans and Peter Simard, the Project invites marine sciences students to participate in year-long programs, giving them practical experience observing and investigating the behaviors of environments of bottlenose dolphins. 

The College’s Galbraith Students provides travel costs, tuition, and housing for students to spend a summer at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences

At the Institute, students learn from leaders in the field, representatives from institutions from all over the world. These students expand their understanding of the marine sciences, which prepares them to work on the cutting edge of the field. 

University of South Florida (St. Petersburg, FL)

The second St. Petersburg institution on this list, the University of South Florida features an entire College of Marine Science. With a department devoted to the subject, the U of South Florida has the means to pursue a wider range of initiatives.  

Those initiatives include the outreach programs launched by the college to increase community awareness of marine sciences. 

To spur interest in the subject among children, the College has created programs such as the Oceanography Camp for Girls. For almost 30 years, this STEM program has introduced over 1000 teens to the possibilities of marine sciences. 

On the academic side, the College has been part of ambitious projects, such as the recent deployment of an uncrewed vessel into Tampa Bay

Created in collaboration with federal agencies and private investors, the vessel will be piloted remotely and can map the seafloor areas in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. 

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

University of Florida Library
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Housed in the School of Forest, Fisheries, & Geomatics Sciences, the marine sciences program at the University of Florida brings together ecology, marine biology, conservation, and sustainable resource management. 

This interdisciplinary approach trains students to be innovative thinkers and prepares them to enter a range of careers related to marine biology. 

To that end, students study everything from coastal wetlands to oceans. Throughout their degree programs, students learn statistics and oceanography, gaining an understanding of fisheries and aquatic sciences, as well as invertebrate biodiversity. The program also offers elective courses in subjects such as human dimensions, economics, and quantitative skills. 

Graduates from the program have gone on to a variety of satisfying careers. U Florida alumni now work as marine resource ecologists, scientific divers, protected species managers, and more. 

University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL)

The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami offers several degree paths for those interested in marine sciences. 

The basic four-year marine biology and ecology program takes an approach similar to others on this list. 

Focusing on building students’ understanding of biology and their quantitative skills, the program branches out into biomedicine, ecology, and evolutionary science subjects. Students in this program have the opportunity to work alongside faculty members in research programs of all sizes. 

Students can also major in marine affairs, which pairs with minors such as ecosystem science and policy, international studies, and political science. 

Graduates of this program go on to continue their studies in graduate school or specialized careers in political ecology, marine resource conservation and management, and policy. 

For the more ambitious student, the Rosenstiel School also provides a double major program in the marine science track. This interdisciplinary program focuses on studying the oceans of the world. It pairs with a required second major in the basic or applied sciences. 

Florida International University (Miami, FL)

Miami’s Florida International University takes the top spot on this list thanks to the achievements of not only its faculty but also of its students. Those studying at FIU don’t wait until after they graduate to do good work. They begin right away. 

That commitment can be seen in the work of Ph.D. student Liberty Boyd, who is working to protect sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. Using drone surveys, Boyd maps seagrass beds to measure the rate at which turtles outgrow their spaces and move on. The technology and training from FIU allow Boyd to track the turtles’ movements, giving her a better understanding of their needs. 

Boyd’s fellow Ph.D. student Erin Spencer has been doing equally great work, studying the behavior and movements of hammerhead sharks. Taking advantage of social media platforms such as Instagram, Spencer shares her work to the wider world, educating the populace about an oft-misunderstood and threatened animal. 

These two examples demonstrate that FIU encourages students to become working scientists immediately.