The UNSW Ocean to Estuarine Ecosystems (BIOS3081) course and the UNSW Topics in Marine Biology and Ecology (MSCI5005) course explores environmental marine science by the practical application of theory. It outlines the dominant players and processes in pelagic marine ecosystems, from fine-scale ocean physics to nutrients and from phytoplankton and zooplankton to fish and sharks.

Throughout the course, you’ll study estuarine ecosystems, including the effects of catchments and nutrients on hydrography and estuarine habitats. The coastal habitats contribute a quarter of Australia’s “Blue Economy” valued at $40 billion pa and increasing at 2-3 times the nation’s GDP. Marine science is the science of the future. You’ll also take a five-day field trip to UNSW’s Smiths Lake Field Station. During the field trip, you’ll have the chance to examine ocean and estuarine ecosystems with a focus on the systematics and ecology of fish, rays and sharks.

Estuarine ecosystems are productive environments but are also where human populations have the greatest impact on the sea. Therefore, estuaries have enormous social, cultural and economic significance for the local population, from the catchment to the coast. Such a breadth cannot be studied or managed piecemeal. Estuarine ecosystems require a breadth of understanding that integrates many other specialties – such as chemistry, physics, mathematics and statistics, biology, climate science and even aspects of engineering.

Oceans are our future. They’re our final frontier. They occupy 75% of the planet’s surface and have the capacity to moderate our climate and supply our food, water and oxygen. Every second breadth relies on the oxygen produced from ocean ecosystems. We also rely on both ocean and estuarine systems to regulate the supply of nutrients, filter water and control erosion.

Course breakdown

The Ocean to Estuarine Ecosystems course is designed for senior undergraduates who are interested in learning about the management of estuaries, coastal waters and the organisms that make up the marine environment.

The course emphasises the practical application of theory, and you’ll get the chance to explore environmental concerns that affect Sydney’s coast. You’ll gain hands-on experience working in laboratories and analysing field trip research, enhancing your skills in scientific writing, statistics, modelling, boating and field study reports.

Upon completion of this course, you’ll have the confidence and knowledge to commence your own research project in Marine Science or to commence employment with a water quality/fisheries authority.

Learning outcomes include:

  • Develop a broad appreciation of biological oceanography and its application to environmental research and fisheries.
  • Appreciate and enjoy the diversity of phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, and have a basic knowledge of their taxonomy.
  • Experience with a variety of field equipment, and the analysis of the data collected.
  • Experience with scientific writing skills, with critical reading of some scientific literature, and with computers, software and analysis.
  • Integration of your knowledge estuarine and coastal ecology, oceanography and climate and management.

Conditions for enrolment 

Assumed knowledge:

Please note that these courses can be taken concurrently.

Career opportunities

Marine Scientists have a practical and quantitative understanding of coastal and ocean science, which enables many diverse employment opportunities. Graduates find job opportunities because of confidence dealing with large datasets, from nutrients to fisheries and to iconic marine fauna. By observing the interactions of plankton and fish in urban coastal environments, Marine Scientists can help manage our ecosystems into the future.

At UNSW Science, you can specialise in Marine Science through The Ocean to Estuarine Ecosystems course and the Master of Marine Science and Management.

Relevant Roles

  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Fisheries Scientist or Manager
  • Data Scientist
  • Journalist/Writer
  • Socioeconomics
  • Natural Resource Manager
  • Marine Scientist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Local Government

What our graduates say

"The Ocean to Estuarine Ecosystems course provided the most grounded learning experience of my undergraduate studies. The lectures, labs, assessments and fieldtrip all complemented one another to get the students thinking about and engaging in the theory and the scientific method behind it. The Smiths Lake Fieldtrip allowed us to take control of our learning experience, to problem solve as a team and gain a better understanding of these dynamic ecosystems and how best to study them."

-Samuel Nolan, Oceans to Estuarine Ecosystems graduate.

Find out more

For more information, please contact Professor Iain Suthers.


T: + 61 2 9385 2065