Marine Biology

Dive in! With direct access to the coastal environment, Marine Biology students can dive headfirst into the study of oceanography, marine ecology, fisheries biology, and more with hands-on, interdisciplinary training from expert faculty.

This major is coordinated by the Department of Biology, Marine Biology, and Environmental Science. 

Marine Biology Expert Researches Ornamental Fishing Trade 

When the Associated Press investigated the global trade and the illegal practices sometimes used to catch ornamental fish, they turned to the leading expert on marine fish aquaculture, Andrew Rhyne, RWU professor of Marine Biology and aquarium research scientist, to explain the murky waters surrounding the ornamental fishing trade.

Watch a video of Andrew Rhyne explaining his work on the Associated Press website. 

Learning Right on the Water

Students and a professor on the InVinceble Spirit

The Rhode Island coast is an outstanding location for marine science education. Students have many opportunities to go into tidal areas along our beautiful coastline, and into the depths of Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay. There they can directly experience our coastal ecosystem dynamics, including intertidal, tidal pool, salt pond, and barrier beach habitats, on the bay right on campus.

As part of a unique hands-on experience, an entire class can be taken on board RWU's experiential learning research vessel, the InVinceable Spirit, a 30-foot craft that's outfitted with cutting-edge coastal research equipment. 

The learning platform at RWU

Extending 200 feet into Mount Hope Bay, RWU's Learning Platform provides students with direct access to the bay for water sampling and biological collecting. Used by classes and for research, the Learning Platform is also the launch site for the InVinceable Spirit. An upweller system for oysters and other bivalves is maintained there as well, for research by RWU's Shellfish Program.

Success By the Numbers

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Real World Opportunities

Marine Biology students participate in community-engaged projects and internships during their undergraduate studies, not to mention attending classes held on our boat in the Mt. Hope Bay!

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Hands-On Research

Annually there are over 80 students conducting research with faculty or caring for marine animals in our wet labs. Students are encouraged to participate in research opportunities starting in their first year.


Placement of 2022 Grads

Our 2022 graduates found success in employment or graduate school within 6 months of graduation.

Degree Requirements


By the time a student has completed a major in Biology or Marine Biology, s/he is expected to be able to demonstrate the following competencies:

  1. formulate a scientific question or problem
  2. design a properly controlled experiment or field study that tests a clearly-stated hypothesis
  3. evaluate evidence critically and quantitatively, and apply this knowledge to novel situations.
  4. effectively communicate scientific knowledge orally, graphically, and in writing
  5. conduct a search of peer-reviewed print and electronic resources relevant to a research project in the life sciences
  6. understand the role of macromolecules in cellular processes
  7. understand the relationship between the structure and function of cellular components
  8. understand the relationship between the structure and function of major organ systems
  9. understand the mechanisms of physiological homeostasis
  10. describe cellular and physiological adaptations that have evolved in a variety of phyla
  11. understand the key discoveries of modern biology (including molecular biology and bioinformatics)
  12. understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of inheritance
  13. understand the species concept and the factors affecting biodiversity
  14. describe the patterns and mechanisms of evolution
  15. understand how phylogenetic relationships among taxa are determined
  16. describe the patterns and mechanisms of population distribution, growth and regulation
  17. understand the flow of matter and energy through natural systems from the molecular to the ecosystem level
  18. describe interactions among biotic and abiotic factors in natural systems
  19. understand the life history strategies of organisms
  20. describe the major global biological communities and biomes
  21. understand significant interactions and dependencies between human and natural system.

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Students working in the Wet Lab

With saltwater drawn straight from the bay, our shellfish hatchery and tropical fish aquaculture facility provide opportunities to pioneer research and technology development alongside faculty members. The Marine and Natural Sciences building is equipped with a Wet Lab, Shellfish Hatchery and Farm, Aquatic Diagnostic Laboratory, and a greenhouse. The Marine Biology Wet Lab, a 3,000-square-foot state-of-the-art research space, houses many undergraduate and faculty research projects as well as most of the RWU aquaculture projects, and offers many research and work-study opportunities for students. MNS houses advanced laboratory resources, including a confocal laser microscope, an epifluorescence microscope, a flow cytometer, a particle counter, thermal cyclers, controlled environmental chambers, and analytical chemistry instrumentation.

Students working in the Wet Lab

Learn from Faculty Experts 

Koty Sharp in Scuba gear Koty Sharp, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology, Marine Biology, & Environmental Science 

Koty Sharp is known for her work to save coral reefs worldwide through her research on local coral, which recently became Rhode Island’s official state coral thanks to her efforts.  

“In my research lab, we are interested in how interactions with microbes, both beneficial and pathogenic, impact the fitness and survival of benthic marine invertebrates. This is especially important as marine species, communities, and ecosystems face the emerging threats of climate change. Much of our work is focused on the temperate coral Astrangia poculata, an emerging model for studying coral-microbe symbiosis and physiology. All of the members of the Sharp Lab team have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with laboratory and field research during the academic year and throughout the summer months.” 

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From Research Scientist to App Developer

Gabrielle Baillargeon, RWU Class of 2020
Marine Biology

Ever since forging an original research project her freshman year, Gabrielle Baillargeon continues to surf a tidal wave of success.

Read full story

Alumni Share Their Experiences

A headshot of Hannah Sterling "I got research experience as a freshman, which I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. I had so much lab time and time personally with my mentors and professors that helped me gain a lot of confidence and independence in the lab. Getting a job and setting myself up for the future is a direct result of going to RWU." 

Hannah Sterling '22 
Research Technician at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine

A photo of Tommy DeMarco in the lab “Something so unique to Roger is we get to be super hands-on in our research as undergraduates. Being able to take part in world-class research is absolutely amazing. It’s definitely a highlight of Roger.” 

Tommy DeMarco '21
Penguin Trainer II at the New England Aquarium in Boston

A photo of Malaika Cordiero outside"I did undergraduate research looking at a specific kind of jellyfish that create currents in the water that bring food toward them when they swim. I looked at the speed of the currents they create, compared across species, and studied the fluid mechanics and how atoms move through water." 

Malaika Cordiero '21 
California Institute of Technology Ph.D. program in Bioengineering in Pasadena, Calif.  

Opportunities for Extended Learning 

Center For Economic and Environmental Development

A group of clownfish in the Wet Lab

As part of RWU’s emphasis on the Blue Economy at a local, regional, national, and global level, the Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) focuses on collaborative marine research, industry support, marine education, public outreach, engagement, and extension. CEED addresses critical challenges facing human health and the coastal environment through education, research, outreach, and training. In CEED's research and student training, they extend the university’s educational resources by working with members of the coastal community to identify important marine resource issues, conduct applied scientific research in these areas, and share findings with stakeholders in the community, including federal and state agencies, nonprofits, local businesses and many other members of the community. The work of CEED currently focuses on four main program areas: Shellfish ProgramAquarium Science and AquacultureAquatic Diagnostic Laboratory, and Temperate Coral Propagation and Microbial Ecology

Narragansett Bay Estuary Program 

RWU is the hub of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP), which is dedicated to the protection and improvement of vast watersheds, rich in coastal wildlife habitat, economic opportunities and recreational assets. Marine Biology students have access to NBEP scientists and help develop solutions for complex problems facing the people and coastal ecosystems of our region.

Undergraduate Research Starts Your First Year 

Marine Biology students doing research

Marine Biology majors explore the unique challenges faced by organisms living in the marine environment and the methods by which they meet these challenges. Students begin by obtaining a broad understanding of oceanographic principles, and through subsequent lectures, laboratories and field work, build on this knowledge for a more complete appreciation of the aquatic world. Undergraduate research is integrated into the Marine Biology curriculum, with opportunities for students to earn academic credit for doing research starting in their first year. Students develop proposals and compete for small grants to fund their projects, and to present their findings at regional, national and international conferences.

Recent student research projects include:

  • Functional morphology of jellyfish
  • Evolution and ecology of marine viruses
  • Ecology of temperate corals and their microbiome
  • Diagnostics of marine fish and shellfish diseases
  • Marine ornamental fish and invertebrate aquaculture
  • Shellfish aquaculture, ecology, and larval biology 

Prestigious Internships  

Marine Biology students RWU students are prepared for highly competitive internships with leading marine and environmental research agencies and advocacy organizations. Our students have interned at organizations such as: 

  • New England, Mystic, & Baltimore Aquariums  
  • Save the Bay  
  • Audubon Society  
  • Center for Coastal Studies  
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  
  • R.I. Department of Environmental Management  
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution & Marine Biological Laboratory 

To read more about our academic offerings, or to view full course descriptions, please refer to our University Catalog.

Marine Biology in the News