Marine Biology BSc (Honours)

The best part of studying marine biology at St Andrews is having the ocean right on your doorstep, as well as being taught by lecturers that are leading researchers in their field.

Heidi Bough, 3rd Year Student

Marine Biology at St Andrews

Studying Marine Biology at St Andrews is a varied and rewarding degree path. With access to world-class facilities, passionate staff, and a broad range of topics to explore, both the Bachelor’s and Integrated Master’s degrees allow students to explore the wonders of our oceans in great detail. Our flexible degree structures allow students to curate their studies around their own interests with modules as varied as Aquatic Ecology, Animal Cognition, Biology of Marine Organisms, and many more. From the smallest cells to the largest marine mammals, you can discover everything the marine world has to offer all from the doorstep of the North Sea.

Hear from Students and Staff

(video here)

Why St Andrews?

1. World Class Teaching with an International Reputation

The Scottish Oceans Institute on East Sands

You will be taught by lecturers who also are leaders in their respective fields within Marine Biology. Whether you are investigating tropical coral reefs with Dr. Miguel Barbosa, seal behaviour with Dr. Kelly Robinson, or the delicate balance of marine ecosystems with Dr. Andrew Blight, you will be learning from the best who have published their works in leading scientific journals.

Ranking #1 in the UK for Marine Biology, St Andrews has an international reputation for teaching and research.

‘One of the reasons I chose to study at St Andrews is their fantastic Marine Biology programme and ranking! I’m so interested in the module options and especially loved Biology of Marine Organisms, which I took last year’

Adrianna Pisarczyk, 4th Year

2. Facilities

The School of Biology has three buildings around St Andrews: the Centre for Biological Diversity, the Scottish Oceans Institute and the brand new Biomedical Sciences Research Complex building with teaching labs. The Scottish Oceans Institute also has an aquarium, allowing you to gain hands on experience with live marine organisms. Computer labs will also allow you to learn key data analysis skills that will prepare you for any research involving data collection.

The new Biomedical Science building, where you will learn key lab-based skills

3. Location

Students studying the intertidal ecosystems on the beaches of St Andrews

St Andrews is located on the coast of the North Sea, which makes getting into the field easy, whether it’s for a weeklong field course looking at the intertidal ecosystem, or for an afternoon of rock-pooling with the Marine Society. There are three beaches in St Andrews, with the Scottish Oceans Institute right on East Sands, making the transition from studying a specimen on the beach into the lab easy.


The seal pool facility at the SOI

The Marine Biology degree program has strong ties with the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI). The SOI building houses tutorial rooms, as well as labs and a research aquarium. In addition, the SOI is home to the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), which is the largest marine mammal research group in the world. The seal pool facility is a unique resource available for collaborative research and as a controlled testing facility for marine equipment. Sensors such as sonar, and remotely operated vehicles, and hydrophone arrays can be tested here before deployment.

As an undergraduate you can benefit directly from the research going on here through volunteering in a research lab, participating in undergraduate research internship schemes and during your 4th year final project. You also can also get involved in interdisciplinary research programs through Vertically Integrated Projects, such as the Dolphin Acoustics VIP, where you can work on a project focused on dolphin communication.

Field Study

Getting into the field is an important aspect of becoming a confident Marine Biologist. As well as being able to head down to one of St Andrews’ beaches to study the rockpools, or nearby Tensmuir’s sand dunes to study succession, we also offer field trips to a variety of different places, so that you can work in a variety of marine ecosystems.

  • The Scottish Highlands to learn sampling methods and species identification in areas such as Loch Lomond.
  • Maldives scientific research station for those with diving qualifications to learn how to gather robust scientific data underwater, witness first hand the fragile and diverse ecosystem of tropical coral reefs, and have the chance to propose, develop and lead a significant underwater research project. 
  • Orielton Field Station on the Pembrokeshire coast for a week-long residential field course before you start your third year of study
  • Antarctica vessel-based expedition to gain an appreciation of and insights into the diversity, complexity, scientific and management challenges of the Antarctic ecoregion
Students applying field study techniques in tropical marine ecosystems in Honduras

The scientific diving module allowed me to directly apply skills that I had learned over my four years in St Andrews, demonstrating their value in a practical setting. In addition to learning study techniques, we had the opportunity to design and carry out a research project. Each of us gained experience in leading scientific diving operations, and this became central in my future work as a marine ecologist and scuba diving instructor.

– Alexander McMaster, Graduate and Co-director of Kosamare Marine Conservation NGO

Module Options

The freedom the marine biology course gives to adapt modules to our specific interest makes the courses really engaging. The ability to have a year doing a work placement on the masters programme gives us chance to try new things and get a real feel for the industry. Overall the course has opened up many opportunities!

Maddy Weir, 4th Year


In the first year of your degree, you will take essential biology modules (Biology 1 & Biology 2) that are intended to familiarise you with the broad skill set required from a biologist. These modules are necessary in preparing you for advanced marine biology modules available in the latter years of your degree. During this year, you will also have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of classes available outside of the School of Biology.


BL2300 Research Methods in Biology

This module provides you with a detailed overview of scientific method and experimental design. You will develop essential mathematical skills required of biologists, while also gaining confidence using the code-based statistical software ‘R’. Apply your knowledge towards a mini project which you will complete in groups, testing your skills on experimental design and data analysis. By conclusion of this module, you will have gained fundamental skills required for the latter stages of your Marine Biology degree.

BL2311 The Oceans

Your introduction to Marine Biology, this core module introduces you to essential concepts in oceanography. Learn about the properties of sea water and its movement patterns, physical-biological interactions from the ocean, and how these processes impact various ocean biomes. Discuss a variety of unique organisms and their ocean habitats: from coasts to the deep and from tropical to polar environments. You will leave this module with experience from hands-on practical workshops investigating various concepts of oceanography, and ultimately gain a diverse understanding of various factors impacting life in our oceans. 

Outside of these modules, you will still have space to take other relevant modules in the School of Biology, for example modules about zoology, comparative physiology, ecology and evolution.


BL3320 Statistical and Quantitative Skills for Biologists

Develop your statistical training from previous years. Strengthen your ability in organising and analysing data using statistical techniques and build your confidence using the code-based statistical software ‘R’. This module supplies you with crucial knowledge on advanced statistical techniques and will aid your preparations for quantitative 4th year projects and/or postgraduate research.

BL3308 Methods in Aquatic Biology

Learn about the essential tools and methods required for the study of freshwater and marine environments and the unique organisms residing within them. Through this module you will gain valuable experience on the residential field trip to the Scottish Highlands, where numerous practical skills involving sampling, labelling, and identifying various botanic, invertebrate, and vertebrate species will be utilised.

BL3318 Biology of Marine Organisms

Gain a solid biological understanding of a variety of organisms associated with marine environments. Your knowledge will range across different species of bacteria, algae, invertebrates, and vertebrates that reside in varying environments ranging from shallow waters to the deep ocean. Through practical work and teaching, learn about the unique adaptations of these organisms, from both an individual level through to large-scale levels influenced by productivity and food-web structures.

Outside of these, you can take other modules in the School of Biology in topics such as ecology and conservation, evolution and animal behaviour.


BL4249 Scientific Diving

This module is restricted to students who have existing diving qualifications (PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or BSAC Sports Diver or equivalent). Learn theoretical techniques used by scientific divers and gain practical experience conducting a mini-research project, utilising underwater surveying techniques.

BL4251 Tropical Marine Biology

Understand biological principles and ecological processes that underpin various tropical marine ecosystems. Focus throughout this module will be on coral reef, seagrass, and mangrove environments, and the unique phyla that is characteristic to each. Through practical and tutorial work you will learn the scientific techniques used in the study of tropical marine biology, explore the threats facing these habitats, and understand principles within marine conservation.

BL4254 Fisheries Research

Gain an understanding of the issues and considerations involving fish stocks. This module enables discussions involving sustainability, catch limits, and status assessments of fish stocks. Gain skills in statistical programming through practical work, and ultimately understand how scientific advice on fisheries is communicated to a wider community. 

BL4258 Foraging in Marine Mammals

Explore what is known (and indeed what is yet to be understood) about how marine mammals capture their prey and how their unique physiological adaptions facilitate this. By module conclusion you will have gained knowledge on both geographical and physiological constraints facing these mammals, adapting prey, optimal diver theory and the unique research techniques used in the study of foraging.

BL4259 Marine Mammals and Man

Gain insight into the variety of ways marine mammals interact with human activity. From individual mammals to a wider population, explore the impact these unmanaged human activities have on the health and longevity of various marine species. You will learn how robust scientific advice informs conservation efforts at national and international levels.

BL4262 Environmental Drivers of Marine Habitats

Receive a broad overview of various environmental drivers of marine ecosystems, from learning about short term processes in ocean and atmosphere to learning about the climates that define marine habitats. You will be given the tools required to analyse primary scientific literature about the field, enabling you to apply this knowledge within different marine science fields.

BL4301 Polar Ecology: Antarctica

During this module you will gain invaluable experience in polar ecology, focusing on top polar predators, ecosystem functionality, and management of Antarctic marine living resources. Gain critical awareness and understanding of current challenges faced by the Antarctic ecoregion. Through practical work you will learn to handle a variety of datasets, including oceanography data and top-predator survey data.

BL4603 External Research Placement (Masters)

While supervised in a working environment away from St Andrews, you will learn and practice a range of invaluable scientific skills independently. During this full year placement, you will gain invaluable research and work experience, important for enhancing future employability.

5TH YEAR (for integrated masters students)

BL5411 Advanced Topics in Biology

You will develop essential skills in data analysis and academic writing and have the opportunity to improve placement year research towards publication standard. Learning is supported by various 1:1 tutorial teaching, guiding the development of your research article and research proposal.

BL5443 Biology Distance Learning

This module encourages you to develop independent thought in experimental design. Consisting of a series of online assessments testing various critical analysis and data analysis skills, this module will aid development of skills necessary for a successful independent research career. 

BL5498 Advanced Research Project

Through supervision from a member of the School of Biology, you will take part in both practical work and independent learning (including literature reading and data analysis) as you develop an advanced research project investigating a defined problem within marine biology.

Click to see the full sub honours and honours Biology module catalogues online.

Student Life in St Andrews

As a Marine Biology student at St Andrews, you will be part of a community of ocean lovers, and you will be able to share your passion both in and out of class. You can make the most of the North Sea through sports clubs such as Surf and Sub Aqua, and societies such as Marine Society, Wildlife and Conservation or Birding. You can browse all of St Andrews’ societies here.

St Andrews is also home to many traditions, such as May Dip, where you will get even more familiar with the North Sea at sunrise on May 1st! Click here to read more about student life in St Andrews.

As a Marine Biology student at St Andrews, you will be part of a community of ocean lovers, and you will be able to share your passion both in and out of class. You can make the most of the North Sea through sports clubs such as Surf and Sub Aqua, and societies such as Marine Society, Wildlife and Conservation or Birding. You can browse all of St Andrews’ societies here.

St Andrews is also home to many traditions, such as May Dip, where you will get even more familiar with the North Sea at sunrise on May 1st! Click here to read more about student life in St Andrews.

Students at East Sands for May Dip

Life After St Andrews

As a St Andrew’s Marine Biology graduate, you will have not only gained outstanding and relevant knowledge surrounding marine science (excellently preparing you for further study and work in the same field), but also transferrable scientific and quantitative skills which can be applied across a diverse range of career paths within both academia and industry. Our international reputation has allowed previous graduates to fulfil exciting futures across the globe, such as with the Manta Trust, Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, and John Hopkins University Medical Campus. Graduate with confidence from the University ranked first in the UK for Marine Biology.

How to Apply

Interested in starting your Marine Biology journey with us at St Andrews? Click here to learn more about our entry requirements, or click here to apply.