EducationAsk Brian

My daughter wants to protect our oceans. Are there suitable third level courses?

There is a growing need for marine scientists working in conservation, offshore renewables, aquaculture and shipping

My daughter loves the sea and spends as much of her free time as possible sailing. Like many of her generation, she is concerned about the environment and is very motivated to make a difference by tackling issues like pollutants and microplastics. She is in senior cycle, so college choices will arise soon. Are there any courses that would suit her, do you think?

We are in the middle of what has been called a “blue acceleration” or a rapid expansion across the world in marine protected areas, offshore renewables, aquaculture and shipping.

All these sectors need marine scientists working in non-governmental organisations, government agencies and private companies. The types of jobs may include data collection in the field, data analysis, laboratory analyses, report writing, fund-raising, education, or policy advice.

Your daughter’s fascination with the ocean and environment has a ready outlet in three-degree courses I would recommend.


University of Galway’s marine science degree is one. It was 477 points in 2023. The course encompasses the study of marine life and environments, how they are formed and evolve and how they are affected by human activity. Topics covered in this programme include marine biology, earth science, chemistry and experimental physics, mathematics, statistics, oceanography, meteorology, botany, geology and microbiology.

The programme aims to help students find what speciality they prefer to study by introducing the subject in a general way at first and allowing them to follow your particular interests later on.

Research ranges from fundamental understanding of the marine ecosystem to applied activities involving close co-operation with industry and state agencies. The 3,000 square metre Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute houses most of the teaching and research activity in Marine Sciences at the university. MRI Carna carries out applied research in Carna, County Galway.

Alternatively, she could study freshwater and marine biology at the Galway campus of Atlantic Technological University (ATU). The four-year level eight degree was 400 points in 2023. The three-year level seven programme was 283 points; graduates of that programme can then progress to level eight with an added year’s study.

Students on this programme study a range of modules from marine biology research at home and abroad (Spain or Portugal, for example) to environmental management and biodiversity/conservation.

Students get to explore the blue planet using the Marine Institute’s exploration ship Celtic Oceans, complete numerous field trips including learning life-saving techniques in Co Donegal, reviewing environmental management principles in the Burren and discussing animal care at Fota Island.

This programme focuses on Freshwater and Marine Ecology. The sustainable development of renewable resources in the face of the rapidly expanding population and developing economy is a consistent theme throughout the programme.

Graduates learn about the relevant ecological processes and gain an understanding of how they should be managed in a responsible and beneficial manner and the legal framework that seeks to protect them from undue exploitation.