Marine ecology is the branch of ecological science concerned with organisms that live in or near the ocean, their behaviors, and their interactions with the environment. The scope of studies in marine ecology can range greatly, from examining unicellular microorganisms to researching global effects of pollution and human activity. Scientists might observe a specific population of organisms, identifying their behaviors and relationships, or investigate entire marine habitats to see how different living and nonliving factors contribute to the overall ecosystem.
Researchers who study marine ecology often concentrate on animal behavior and adaptations. For example, a scientist might observe a certain population of marine organisms to discover how they find food, mate, interact with other species, and adapt to environmental conditions. He or she may revisit a group of organisms over time to evaluate their reproductive success, migration patterns, population numbers, and their responses to different types of weather.
Scientists who specialize in ecosystem ecology might spend months or even years researching a specific region, such as a shoreline, to discover the various impacts that both living and nonliving components have on the local environment. They investigate the different types of native plants and animals and their interactions within an ecosystem. Marine scientists frequently consider the effects of nonliving variables, such as light, temperature, and water salinity, on populations of living things. They may also try to determine how human actions and nonnative marine species effect the wellbeing of an ecosystem.
In addition to field observations and studies, marine ecology can occur in a laboratory setting. Marine ecologists commonly employ microscopes and other laboratory equipment to analyze samples of soil, air, water, and living matter. They may try to determine how pollution levels or water quality have changed over time, and how different organisms have adapted to such environmental changes. Laboratory scientists study bacteria, algae, or other microorganisms to learn more about their roles in an ecosystem.
Many marine ecologists work for government agencies and nonprofit environmental organizations to promote conservation and protection efforts. Marine ecology experts working for the government often give tours, speeches, and seminars to educate the general public about the importance of marine ecosystems and what people can do to better protect them. Those working for nonprofit organizations might lead cleanup projects to restore damaged shores and tide pools. An educated, concerned population can take many steps to ensure that marine plants, animals, and their environments will continue to thrive.