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Marine Microbiologist

What does a Marine Microbiologist do?

Marine microbiologists study marine life forms that cannot be seen with the naked eye, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and microscopic algae. They focus on the biology of micro-organisms at both the molecular and cellular level, as well as their ecology. They also study many important practical problems, looking at how micro-organisms affect us and how we can exploit them. Micro-organisms affect every aspect of life on earth and, consequently, microbiologists work in a wide variety of settings, although the majority of work is laboratory-based.

Typical work activities for a marine microbiologist generally include:

  • observing, monitoring and identifying micro-organisms
  • tracking of micro-organisms in a range of environments
  • monitoring and assessing samples from a range of sources
  • using a variety of identification methods, including molecular techniques, to test samples
  • developing new techniques, products and processes
  • developing and planning methods to prevent the spread of disease
  • working with specialist computer software to undertake studies and research
  • managing and overseeing laboratory work.

What qualifications do I need?

Marine microbiologists need to study for a degree or diploma at a university or technikon, with a major in microbiology or other biological sciences. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite for these courses. Although those who have bachelor’s degrees can find jobs in the field, they are technicians and their opportunities for advancement are limited. Those who have earned master’s degrees in microbiology, or in related fields such as bacteriology, are qualified for many jobs in industry, teaching and applied research. After further study towards an Honours or Bachelor of Technology degree and several years of work experience in the field, graduates apply for registration as professional marine microbiologists with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. In order to keep up with new findings in their field, marine microbiologists must continue to study throughout their careers.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Physical Science
• Biology


Where can I study?

Durban University of Technology
National Diploma: Biotechnology

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Bachelor of Science: Microbiology

Tshwane University of Technology
National Diploma: Biotechnology

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Science: Biological Science

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Science: Biological Science or Microbiology

Vaal University of Technology
Bachelor of Technology: Biotechnology

Where can I get more info?

PSouth African Council for Natural Scientific Professions – www.sarnap.org.za
Department of Science and Technology (Public Understanding of Biotechnology) – www.pub.ac.za


Interview with a Marine Microbiologist

Shaleen Bhikka  |  Marine Microbiologist SAAMBR  |  Sea World Ushaka

Shaleen Bhikka | Marine Microbiologist SAAMBR | Sea World Ushaka


Why did you choose microbiology?
I have always had a passionate interest in biology and towards the end of my school career, I became more interested in the causes and cures for different diseases. This interest in diseases, combined with my love for the sea, which was fostered by my grandfather, saw me seeking placement in a marine facility after qualifying as a microbiologist.

What training did you undergo?
After completing matric I studied at UKZN, majoring in biological and micro science.

What makes a ‘good’ scientist?
You need an enquiring mind and a lot of strength and endurance.

Is experience as important as training?
Formal training gives you the principles on which to base your experiences. I sincerely hope both formal training and experience will be ongoing throughout my career. However, you cannot start this career without formal training as it would be like trying to find a black dot in pitch darkness – you cannot interpret what you are looking at without the necessary knowledge.

Describe your typical day
Each day presents new challenges. We check on our patients from the previous night and adjust the feeding and medical charts according to their progress. We check water quality, take tissue samples for analysis, medicate and treat the fish in our care.

What do you enjoy?
I love looking at cell biology, bacteria and parasites, and their ability to manipulate the environment to best suit themselves. It’s only when you have an understanding of the parasites and bacteria that you are able to successfully treat fish.

What aspects are you least keen on?
I really have to force myself to sit down and do admin; certainly not the best part of my day.

What are the job highlights?
Whenever I successfully diagnose and treat a fish and watch it fully recover – fortunately this happens often.

In the future…
I am going to continue with my studies, and continue to find unknown strains of bacteria and share this information with the rest of the world for the benefit of all marine fish species.

Advice for budding microbiologists?
If you have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, you will probably suit a career in the micro world.

Describe your job in three words
Interesting • Challenging • Rewarding