So what does a marine biologist do, exactly?

A typical conversation with someone I just met:

New Person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a marine biologist.”
New Person: “That’s so cool! So what do you do exactly?”
That question always stumps me for a moment or two. How does one condense one’s job/career into one sentence? In the end, I usually go with “I go diving and count fish”, which doesn’t really help all that much. After six months of relatively intensive fieldwork, I now have enough visual aids to answer that question with! (Thank you to my awesome teammates for the photos. Whee!)
So, what does a marine biologist do, exactly? In my case, being a marine biologist involves:
Diving and counting fish using fish visual census. We then use the census data to estimate the total fish biomass in the area. We also use the list of fish species found to see if the area is overfished or not. Still learning to identify my fish but I’m getting there. The Philippines has over 1,800 species of marine fish so cut me some slack 😛 Photo by Jem Baldisimo
fish visual census

Taking photos of corals and the rest of the benthic cover. I identify the benthic cover (whether it’s coral, algae, sponges, or something else) and process the photos using the program Coral Point Count with Excel extensions. This lets me know what makes up the benthic cover. Photo by Denmark Recamara
Conducting focus group discussions (FGDs) with members of the fishing community. I ask them questions about their fishery (i.e. what gear do they use, where do they go, what do they catch, etc.) and their livelihood (i.e. are they making enough money to cover their daily needs, do they have issues with their marketing channels, etc.). Photo by Joseph Garcia
01 FGD
Interviewing the fishers individually. My teammates and I go around the barangay (village) and interview the individual fishers in their homes or at the docks. My lack of language skills makes things difficult sometimes but luckily, my limited Bisaya and the interviewees’ limited Tagalog meet halfway. Photo by Maryjune Cabiguin
individual interviews
Going around the local markets and identifying the fish that are sold there. We ask the stall owners about how much fish they get from the fishermen to sell, how much do they sell the fish for, and where the fish are caught. We also do other fun stuff like fishery intercepts (where we go out to sea and interview the fishers while they’re still fishing) and landing surveys (where we interview the fishers as soon as they get to land). Photo by Denmark Recamara
02 market survey
Encoding lots and lots and lots of data. We interview at least 30 people in each barangay and we work in at least 6 barangays per municipality. The paper stack in the photo is just a portion of the whole stack of interviews I have to encode. As you can imagine, this is not my favorite thing to do.
interviews to encode_small
Analyzing lots and lots and lots of data. For fisheries, we calculate the catch per unit effort (CPUE) for each fishing gear for each data source (individual interview, FGD, landing, and intercept) and combine it with the socio-economic information given during the FGD. We also analyze the communities’ perceptions towards marine protected areas (MPAs). Then there’s the additional fun of cross-referencing the FVC data to see if there’s any difference in the fish community composition and biomass in MPAs versus non-MPAs. And even more fun to see if the the fish data matches the coral cover data. Just cleaning up the data takes at least two to three days.
fisheries data
After all that, why the heck am I in this business?! 😛 The easy answer is that I enjoy (most of the time) what I do and I like the people I work with (hallo PEARRLyshells!). And hey, I get to go around the Philippines so that’s often a plus 😀 The more serious answer is that it’s always nice to know that what you do for a living can impact the environment and the lives of other people (in a good way!).
Photo by Darryl Valino


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