BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology

The information on this page relates to September 2016 entry. For 2017 information, including grade requirements, please check our prospectus.

A pink sea anemone

Marine & Freshwater Biologists study the animals and plants that inhabit marine, freshwater and brackish water ecosystems. These range from microscopic plankton, to enormous blue whales! Marine & Freshwater Biologists study animal diversity, evolution, behaviour, anatomy, physiology, botany, and ecology, with a special emphasis on marine and freshwater ecosystems. Upon graduation, they possess the scientific and analytical skills demanded in a broad range of professions.

Here’s why we think Aberystwyth is a great place to study a degree in Marine & Freshwater Biology:

  • Passionate teaching staff that conduct world-leading research across a wide range of marine and freshwater subject areas
  • Fantastic modern aquariums, laboratories, microscopy suite and historic specimen collection 
  • Wonderful aquatic environments right on your doorstep, including rocky and sandy shores, estuaries, saltmarsh, dunes and lowland and upland rivers
  • Access to species such as grey seals, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, salmon and trout, as well as a myriad of marine and freshwater invertebrate species 
  • Two residential field courses in the third year of their course: a marine field course to Portugal and a freshwater field course to Loch Lomond!

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If all the weird and wonderful animals and plants found in marine and freshwater environments fascinate you, and you want to explore some of the least understood habitats in the world, then Marine & Freshwater Biology is the degree course for you 

Here’s why we think Aberystwyth is the very best place to make your voyage of discovery… 

Passionate teaching staff who are expert in their field 

You’ll be taught by expert marine and freshwater biologists who are researching solutions to the global grand challenges faced by aquatic systems (e.g. over-exploitation, global climate change). Their research interests are diverse, ranging from molecules, to organisms, and ecosystems. Our marine and freshwater lecturers are passionate teachers too, and all hold formal qualifications in teaching in higher education, with many having won teaching awards. You may already have seen some of them on TV documentaries explaining the secret lives of aquatic organisms. 

Fantastic facilities 

As a budding marine and freshwater biologist, you’ll need access to excellent research and teaching facilities. We have modern, well-equipped teaching laboratories, lecture theatres, and seminar rooms. You’ll also benefit from other facilities including: 

  • A modern aquarium housing cold-water and tropical, marine and freshwater species, with facilities for housing salmonids, and a mesocosm system for manipulating climate change stressors 
  • An advanced microscopy and bio-imaging laboratory 
  • A wonderful museum and herbarium full of historic specimens collected from around the globe by generations of famous Aberystwyth University scientists 

Unrivalled wildlife, aquatic habitats and countryside 

There is no better way to study marine and freshwater biology than out in the field, and there’s no better place for that than Aberystwyth. Within a stone’s throw you’ll find a fabulous variety of habitats for fieldwork or just to explore with your friends: 

  • Cardigan Bay – home to the 2nd largest residential population of bottlenose dolphins in the UK, as well as rocky and sandy shores, dune systems and saltmarsh; 
  • Cambrian Mountains – where you can find wild moorland and mountains which support pristine upland streams and rivers; 
  • Charismatic species such as harbour porpoises, grey seals, ospreys and more! 

A world renowned teaching and research institute

  • Our Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) received the ''Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology'' award at the 2013 Times Higher Education Awards. 
  • Our students have won the “Student of the Year” award at the European Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Awards, and the Welsh Ornithological Society Student Prize
  • Top 10 in the UK for research intensity in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment (2014).
  • 78% of research assessed to be world-leading or internationally excellent in the 2014 REF.

93% of our 2014 IBERS graduates were in employment or further study 6 months after graduating, up 6 percentage points from the previous year (DLHE 2014). This increase reflects our investment in innovative and strategic student-focused employability initiatives which encompass all our academic Institutes and which we firmly believe are likely to improve our employability ratings still further.

The 2015 National Student Satisfaction survey results also show a significant improvement with 92% of students satisfied with the quality of the teaching on their course (5 percentage points higher than the UK average).

International opportunities 

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take the chance to study abroad during your degree? We have exchange agreements with universities in Europe, USA, Canada, and elsewhere, so you can apply to spend all or part of your 2nd year studying marine and freshwater biology overseas. You’ll miss Aberystwyth, but you’ll love the new perspectives international study can bring.

Want to study in Welsh? 

Students can elect to study a number of IBERS modules in the medium of Welsh. Ask the department for further details.

Course Content

Welsh medium modules available

Please note: The modules listed below are those currently intended for delivery during the next academic year and may be subject to change. They are included here to give an indication of how the course is structured.

Year 1 Core (70 Credits) You must take the following modules

Semester 1

Biology Of The Cell BR10310

Genetics BR11310

Animal Diversity BR11500

Biological Molecules And Methods BR11710

Semester 2

Animal Diversity BR11520

Metabolism BR12010

Molecular Laboratory Skills BR12210

Year 1 Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 1

Sgiliau Astudio A Chyfathrebu BG12410

Study And Communication Skills BR12410

Year 1 Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 2

Llystyfiant Ac Ecosystemau BG12920

Vegetation And Ecosystems BR12920

Year 1 Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 2

Amrywiaeth Microbau BG12110

Microbial Diversity BR12110

Year 1 Options Choose 10 credits

Semester 1

Biological Thought And Discovery BR12510

The Biosphere BR13210

Year 2 Core (70 Credits) You must take the following modules

Semester 1

Aquatic Micro- And Macrophytes BR20910

Marine Biology BR22620

Semester 2

Evolution And Molecular Systematics BR21720

Freshwater Biology BR22020

Year 2 Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 1

Profiad Gwaith BG24200

Work Experience BR24200

Semester 2

Profiad Gwaith BG24210

Work Experience BR24210

Year 2 Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 1

Dulliau Ymchwil BG23400

Research Methods BR23400

Semester 2

Dulliau Ymchwil BG23420

Research Methods BR23420

Year 2 Options Choose 20 credits. Where modules are offered bilingually: choose your preferred language if applicable

Semester 1

Ethology BR21620

Advances In Invertebrate Zoology BR22410

Monitoring The Environment BR22810

An Introduction To Geographic Information Systems (gis) BR24810

Semester 2

Ecoleg Microbau Dyfrol A Daearol BG20810

Surveying Aquatic Environments BR20210

Aquatic And Terrestrial Microbial Ecology BR20810

Vertebrate Anatomy BR23710

Final Year Core (70 Credits) You must take the following modules

Semester 1

Freshwater Biology Field Course BR32910

Marine Biology Field Course BR33010

Population And Community Ecology BR33920

Semester 2

Aquatic Animal Physiology BR31010

Fish Biology, Fisheries And Aquaculture BR33220

Final Year Options This CORE MODULE is offered bilingually: choose your preferred language

Semester 1

Traethawd Estynedig BG32300

Dissertation BR32300

Semester 2

Traethawd Estynedig BG32330

Dissertation BR32330

Final Year Options Choose 20 credits. Where modules are offered bilingually or in EITHER semester: choose your preferred language or semester if applicable

Semester 1

Behavioural Neurobiology BR31510

Conservation Genetics BR31810

Semester 2

Threats To Natural Ecosystems BR34210

Environmental Law BR34610

Both Semesters

Cyfathrebu Ymchwil BG31710

Communicating Research BR31710


You will be fully supported with developing your employability skills throughout the degree scheme. The degree will allow you to develop specialist skills such as the ability to identify, either via own knowledge or dichotomous keys, marine and freshwater plants and animals as well as developing a range of transferable skills highly valued by employers. You will join a department that has excellent facilities to support your studies; £55 million pounds has been invested over the last five years in IBERS infrastructure. Many students as part of their supervised final year project have access to highly specialised facilities for example IBERS new marine and freshwater aquarium facilities. These facilities enable students to develop their specialist skills and knowledge preparing them for a successful transition into the workplace. Marine and Freshwater Biology students at Aberystwyth benefit from the unique biodiversity in west Wales which provides plenty of opportunities for extensive fieldwork to develop practical skills and knowledge.

IBERS staff have close links with many learned societies such as the Society of Biology which provide a route for students to network with others in their discipline and explore funding opportunities and recognition for their work. Guest lecturers and expert external teachers also contribute to the curriculum to pass on their expertise and knowledge.

The department has resources on the virtual learning environment, Aberlearn Blackboard to support your development and has a dedicated Twitter feed to keep students informed of developmental opportunities and work experience. Students have participated in a work experience module to help them identify and reflect on the employability skills they are developing through their work experience. 

The department has a close working relationship with the Careers Service who can help and support you sourcing work experience opportunities locally and nationally. You will be eligible to take part in the GO Wales scheme which offers opportunities for work tasters and paid placements to develop your experience in the workplace. Students from the department have participated in work taster opportunities in local secondary schools to gain experience of teaching science and the local wildlife trusts. You can also participate in the Year in Employment Scheme (YES) to gain graduate level work experience and IBERS students have successfully gained placements with a number of employers including Seacamp Environmental Education Camp in Key West, Florida and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

On graduating with your BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology Degree you will be qualified for career-paths specifically related to the discipline. In addition, your degree will have taught you a broad range of skills such as observation, research, analysis and reflection which are demanded by employers in every field.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

This modular degree scheme provides you with an integrated approach to the study of marine and freshwater biology. It aims to develop your understanding of the principles and concepts of aquatic biology, and to provide you with an insight into the complexities of managing aquatic habitats.

What will I learn?

In the first year you will study biological molecules and cells, metabolism, and genetics. You will look at the major animal vertebrate and invertebrate groups, focusing on the physiology of these animals with respect to sensing the environment, muscle and locomotion, nutrition, endocrinology, cardiovascular respiratory systems, and homeostasis. You will also be introduced to the diversity of microbial life, vegetation and ecosystems. A series of linked experiments will help you to develop the basic practical skills required for research.

In the second year you will look at the organisms and processes that characterize freshwater and marine ecosystems. You will examine invertebrate zoology, and the theoretical background for understanding the theory of evolution and how modern molecular techniques contribute to its study. You will become acquainted with the principles and practice of a range of basic quantitative and qualitative procedures of data analysis, coupled with an understanding of good research design and planning. You will also undertake a period of work experience which will enhance your employability skills and enable you to reflect on your future career development. Optional modules on environments, ecology and hydrochemistry will enable you to tailor your study to suit your own interests.

In the third year you will study aquatic animal physiology and ecology and will look at invertebrate and vertebrates living within aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Residential field courses away from Aberystwyth will enable you to observe a range of organisms found in European waters and gain further experience of field sampling and laboratory analysis. A compulsory dissertation will allow you to perform in-depth research under the guidance of a supervisor. Your project may be based on laboratory experiments or fieldwork exercises, comprise a computer modelling exercise, or involve a critical review of published scientific literature.

Among many skills, you will learn to: synthesize information from scientific literature; understand and explain the implications of developments in subjects such as parasitology; scrutinise data in terms of quality and quantity; and respond to new data through laboratory investigation.

How will I be taught?

The course will be delivered through a balanced programme of lectures, workshops, tutorials, fieldwork and practicals. Some aspects of the course will rely on student-centred e-learning, supported by computer workshops. You will receive thorough training in zoological and biological concepts and practical scientific methods.

You will be assessed through numerous methods including essays, practical exercises, oral presentations, worksheets, reports, statistical exercises, dossiers, posters, portfolios, wikis, reflective diaries, literature reviews, magazine articles, field notebooks and exams.

The University's scientific community and the Department's supportive staff will will greatly assist you in your biological training. You will also benefit from the opportunities within the department and the university to develop your theoretical and practical expertise so that, upon graduation, you are perfectly positioned for the next stage of your career.

You will be assigned a personal tutor throughout your degree course, who will help you with any problems or queries, whether these are academic-related or personal issues. You should feel free to contact them at any time for help and advice.

You will also have the opportunity to complete a Personal Development Plan (PDP) at Aberystwyth. This is a structured process of self-appraisal, reflection, and planning, which will enable you to chart your personal, academic and professional development throughout your time at university. By recording your academic performance, and highlighting the skills you already have and those you will need for future employability, the PDP portfolio will equip you with the necessary tools to plan effectively, develop successful approaches to study, and consider your future career options and aspirations.

Student Views

"I enjoyed my time studying Marine and Freshwater Biology and I am able to now apply various aspects of what I was taught during my three years to my current job role, even though it is not directly related to my course. The practical elements of my course were excellent, especially the two 3rd year field trips." Rebecca – Project officer,  Forestry Commission

"Studying Marine & Freshwater Biology at Aberystwyth makes the course that bit more special. The location is perfect as you have both the sea and inland freshwater systems running through Aberystwyth into the sea. There is an array of diverse organisms right on your door-step at Aberystwyth; combining that with a lot of research in the field and the aquarium facilities makes the whole experience more engaging and enjoyable!" Richard Harris

"With the knowledge and scientific mindset I gain though my studies, I hope to be able to help preserve these fascinating environments for future generations. The course has been great; its main strength is its variety, with an array of topics covered over the three years in increasing detail." George William Middleton

"The course gave me a good grounding in all aspects of marine and freshwater biology. There were plenty of opportunities for fieldwork in the course, including the dissertation project, which prepared me for the survey skills needed in my current job." Laura – Environment Officer Gwynedd County Council

"At the Marine Conservation Society I head the conservation team of 17 individuals working on everything from overfishing and the need for marine reserves to dealing with the growing problem of plastic waste at sea. I'm 37 now and I look back at my time in Aber with real fondness. The study helped, but the most important thing for me was that I developed an interest in the sea. Aber was a truly great place to do that, living on the seafront, and diving with the University sub-aqua club." Simon – Head of Science, Marine Conservation Society

I really enjoyed the course. This made it easier to get up for lectures in the morning! The field courses were a highlight and nothing beats getting out there and getting your hands wet, whether it is doing a kick-sample in a small stream or doing a transect down a rock-pool strewn shoreline.  I really liked the broad scope of the course and the opportunity to tailor the course through the various optional modules in the second and third years. As such it has given me a great grounding in biological science as a whole – essential for a role where you have to consider the whole ecosystem and look at so much more than just the fish and the immediate riverine habitat.  Stuart Manwaring – Fisheries Technical Officer, Environment Agency

Key Information Set

Key Facts

UCAS Code: C164

Tariff Required: 290 - 330

Entry Requirements: GCSE: grade C in English or Welsh and Mathematics and a science subject. A level: grade B in Biology or Human Biology required. Lower tariff points offers will be given to students studying more science subjects at A level, in addition to Biology or Human Biology.

Course Length: 3 Years

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