Marine biology is the study of marine organisms. It involves many aspects of analsying the behaviour and interactions of aquatic plants and animals. There are unsurprisingly, many specialisations in the field.
Considering that 50-80% of Earth’s life-forms are underwater, this is a significant area to research. We know that the vast majority of the planet is under water, so insights into the organisms here can help us to understand the impact they may have on the environment as a whole.
New marine organisms are being discovered at a faster rate than ever before. This has been greatly supported by continuous advances un technology, but there are certain individuals that made huge contributions to the body of knowedge that we now have. Here we take a look at seven of the most renowned marine biologists, identifying the reasons for their well deserved places on this list.
1. Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)
Charles Darwin is very well known as the man behind the theory of evolution. We typically connect him to apes when we think of his work, but he was in fact an early marine biologist. He studied coral reefs in great depth, and this helped to develop his initial theories behind natural selection and ultimately evolution. His studies were particularly focused on marine invertebrates including plankton and barnacles. His third geological book, completed in 1846 shows his continued interest in the area of marine biology.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. ~ Charles Darwin
2. Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)
Rachel Carson was an American environmentalist, famous for her eye-opening books, including Silent Spring, The Edge of The Sea and Under The Sea. These works of literature helped to teach the world about the dark future which lay ahead for the planet if changes were not made. As a result, the early environmental movement is largely credited to her.
Rachel’s career began by submitting articles to local newspapers during her studies for her master’s degree in zoology. Rachel showed a real passion for marine biology and her findings fuelled her works on conservation.
Rachel became an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, where she analysed and reported on populations of fish. Her reports were groundbreaking and she eventually made waves in publishing houses who took on her environmental literature.
Rachel is said to have been a catalyst for the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her work eventually moved on to other areas, especially looking at the use of pesticides. Following her death she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.
“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” ~ Rachel Carson
Jacques Cousteau was a French marine biologist and conservationist, fascinated by the lives of aquatic animals and plants. His list of roles must also include Naval officer, explorer, filmmaker, scientist, photographer and author, although he described himself as an oceanographic technician.
He used his talents in story telling to bring his marine research to life in numerous books and film. His most famous work is probably the The Silent World, a film based on his book of the same name, won a Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956, almost unheard of for documentaries.
Jacques also played a part in the creation of the “Aqua-Lung”, which was a first of it’s kind form of open-circuit scuba diving equipment. He founded the French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC) in 1950, alongside the Underseas Research Group in France as well as French Underseas Research offices.
The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat. ~ Jacques-Yves Cousteau
4. Sylvia Earle (1935 – present)
Sylvia Earle, otherwise known as ‘Her Deepness’, is an American marine biologist, oceanographer, author, lecturer and National Geographic explorer-in-residence. Two of her biggest accolades have been that she was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and also that she was was named the first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine in 1998.
She has enjoyed an illustrious career in marine biology, with a role in the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere before she co-founded Deep Ocean Engineering which designed and built a state of the art research submarine known as Deep Rover. Sylvia founded the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, and has founded marine conservation companies across the globe.
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” ~ Sylvia Earle
5. Hans Hass (1919 – 2013)
Hans Hass was a highly respected Austrian marine biologist who is renowned in this area for numerous reasons. He redeveloped Cousteau’s aqua-lung, including a ‘rebreather’ which enabled the user to inhale exhaled breath through a form of recycling the air. Hass and his team developed and researched the rebreather over the course of eleven years, perfecting it for use by other underwater professionals.
He was also one of the first people to use an underwater camera to capture aquatic life for the benefit of documentary and photographic books.
Following his detailed research on the behaviour of aquatic life, Hass developed his well known for his energon theory. The fundamental claim is that human, nonhuman animal and plant behaviour all stems from common origins. Using this work, he aimed to combine elements of marine biology, behavioural and management science into a single discipline.
„The Energon Theory“ is the result of decades of intensive research and focusses on the energetic basis of life. After four billion years of evolution, mankind is certainly not the climax of this process. Are technology, economy, culture, etc. really something fundamentally different from animals and plants? It seems that there are identical laws underlying all forms of life including the cultural level of human life. ~ Hans Hass
Hass received many distinctions for his work in marine biology. He has an IADS Lifetime Achievement Award (International Association of Diving Schools) to his name, as well as the Platinum Romy for lifetime achievement (2012) and even a cone snail found in the Philippines (2012), was named after him (Protoconus hanshassi).
6. Eugenie Clark (1922 – 2015)
Eugenie Clark was a world class American ichthyologist, (or scientist of fish) often described as “The Shark Lady”. The main body of her research was carried out on poisonous fish and sharks, which had captured her attention since she was a young girl.
Eugenie was one of the first to use scuba gear to conduct underwater scientific research, undertaking more than 70 deep dives in submersibles, even into her nineties, despite being diagnosed with lung cancer.
She lectured about her subject across the globe in more than 60 colleges, while studying the behaviour and ecology of fishes throughout the majority of her professional life. Eugenie dived with sharks on many occasions spanning a period of 40 years, but was only injured by one on land, when the mounted jaw of a 12-foot tiger shark fell onto her from the passenger seat while she was driving to give a lecture.
Eugenie presented her work over the years in a series of reports, books and television shows. One of her most famous works is a book by the name of “Lady With a Spear”. Accolades for her life’s achievements include the Medal of Excellence by the American Society of Oceanographers, in 1994, as well as numerous species of fish named in her honour. Much of her efforts were to dispel the public fear of sharks, and her National Geographic story, “Sharks: Magnificent and Misunderstood”is a fine example of this.
Eugenie discovered an effective shark repellent in the form of a creamy secretion given off by a flatfish called the Moses sole.
Not many appreciate the ultimate power and potential usefulness of basic knowledge accumulated by obscure, unseen investigators who, in a lifetime of intensive study, may never see any practical use for their findings but who go on seeking answers to the unknown without thought of financial or practical gain. ~ Eugenie Clark
7. Leanne Armand (1968 – present)
Leanne Armand is an Australian marine scientist, who is a specialist in Southern Ocean dynamics and sea ice. Her work has helped to explain how sea ice steers the circulation of the ocean. She has also analysed the distribution of diatoms, (a single-cell microscopic phytoplankton) which affects the physical mass of the sea, measuring salinity, nutrients and temperature. These are all things that can have a major impact at an environmental level.
There are of course many other individuals that have changed our understanding of marine biology, and still more who continue to make progress to this day.
What are your thoughts? Are there any names that you think should be added to this list? Are you a Marine biologist? We would love to hear from you.