Marine science is a multi-dimensional discipline that includes many different fields of research. The scientists at the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) are involved in a wide variety of projects, from tag-and-release programmes, to research on marine protected areas, fisheries, lobsters and estuaries.
A typical day in the life of a coral research scientist would involve working (and non-working) hours studying coral reefs.
Corals reefs are fascinating ecosystems because they provide a habitat for hundreds of thousands of animals. Not only are they very diverse, but they are also very important to humans because they provide protection to the shore from wave erosion, a habitat for fish, and enormous revenue through tourism.
ORI has been studying South Africa’s coral reefs for more than 20 years. These reefs are located at Sodwana Bay in northern KwaZulu-Natal along the beautiful Maputaland coast.
Every two months the coral scientists go to Sodwana Bay to conduct research on the reefs by investigating the coral and fish communities that live there. All of their work is done underwater using SCUBA gear.
To record the data collected, they write on plastic slates with pencils and make use of photography to a great extent because this allows them to record lots of information in a relatively short space of time.
They get to scuba dive on the most amazing reefs in the world – and they get paid to do it! Most of the day is spent at sea, collecting data, so they see amazing things like whales, sharks, turtles and many different types of corals and fish. This type of work may seem easy, but the scientists have to be fit to do a lot of diving and they cannot get seasick on the boat when the weather is rough.
Although their job allows them to dive and spend time looking at brightly coloured fish and corals, they also spend time in front of computers analysing the data that they have collected on various field trips. This means entering data into spreadsheets, analysing photographs and doing statistical analyses.
Office time is not as exciting as fieldwork but it is the most important part of being a marine scientist. Data must be processed and the results of analyses interpreted, compiled into reports and published in international journals to make information available to the wider marine community. Publishing research is very important because it enables researchers in all parts of the world to compare findings. This fosters a better understanding of the changes taking place worldwide on coral reefs.
Coral reefs are unique ecosystems that are under threat due to global climate change and human population pressure. As more people choose the field of marine biology, they will help us to save the planet's coral reefs.
In order to be a scientist you need a Bachelor of Science degree with the eventual aim of a Masters degree and possibly a Doctorate. This involves long hours of dedication and hard work.