School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Freshwater and Marine Ecology

MSc ( 1 year Full-time / 2 years Part-time )


Aquatic ecosystems and species are under intense anthropogenic threats. These threats directly affect services such as sustainable fisheries, drinking water or ecosystem resilience. To adequately respond to these 21st century challenges and conserve these goods and services, a fundamental understanding of the biodiversity and ecosystem processes is needed, as without knowledge there can be no application or effective management.

Considering both freshwater and marine ecosystems and species, we have designed a programme to equip you with the interdisciplinary practical skills and theoretical understanding to pursue a career in aquatic research, consultancy or environmental protection, and give you a good understanding of applying scientific understanding to science policy. 

This programme balances the latest in ecological theory, conservation biology and evolutionary biology with practical application. You will take part in three residential field-courses (Dorset, Cumbria and Cape Verde) for practical, hands-on training.

You will be supervised by research-active scientists, becoming part of their research groups. We support links with a range of NGOs or potential employer organisations and strongly encourage you to publish your project work.

Programme highlights

  • Balances the latest in ecological theory with practical application
  • Residential field courses for practical, hands-on training in the field
  • Access to analytical, mesocosm and temperature-controlled facilities within the Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment
  • Strong foundation for employment with environmental protection and conservation agencies, the water industry and environmental consultancies or PhD research 
I learned from a wide range of experts, especially during the field trips, which were my favourite part. Going to Dorset, the Lake District and Cape Verde allowed me to learn outside the classroom and get hands-on field experience
Adrienne Kerley, Freshwater and Marine Ecology MSc 2016 graduate, now a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded PhD student

Research and teaching 

You will have access to analytical research facilities within our Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment, developed from an investment of £1.8 million in analytical equipment and specialist laboratory facilities. You will also have access to the Freshwater Biological Association’s River Laboratory on the River Frome in Dorset, via our River Communities Group, and to mesocosm and temperature controlled facilities at QMUL. Furthermore we will use our network of partner NGOs, research labs and industries to create further opportunities.

By choosing to study at a Russell Group university you will have access to excellent teaching and top class research. You can find out more about our research interests and view recent publications on the School of Biological and Chemical Science's Aquatic Ecology Research group page.

Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment (CATE)

(CATE) at QMUL is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and the School of Geography.

CATE builds on existing research strengths in areas of environmental research such as biogeochemistry, freshwater and marine ecology, terrestrial ecology and conservation. These facilities are used either in the formal teaching of this programme or are available for individual research projects.

Dorset Field Facilities

The Aquatic Ecology Group has a complementary unit (the River Communities Group) who do more applied research, based at the River Laboratory of the Freshwater Biological Association in Dorset. For example, we have a suite of ponds, 50% of which are heated above ambient temperatures, in which run long-term climate change experimentation. You will have the opportunity to conduct both field work and lab projects at this site.

  • Aquatic science lectures in London 
  • QMUL Aquatic and Whole Organism Biology Group seminar series
  • QMUL Geography seminar series
  • UCL Centre for Ecology and Evolution
  • London Freshwater Group
  • Institute of Fisheries Management
  • The Linnaean Society

You will receive a programme of relevant lectures by email.


If you have any questions about the content or structure, contact the programme director Dr Christophe Eizaguirre

Your taught modules take place in blocks of two weeks of full-time teaching (normally 9am-5pm), followed by weeklong study breaks for independent learning and coursework. This structure  allows for an intensive learning experience, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in their subject. 

The following modules are typically offered as part of this programme:

  • Ecosystem Structure and Functioning: While we have long appreciated the structure of ecosystems, the importance of ecosystem functioning has lagged behind somewhat. This module aims to redress the balance by exploring the use of modern tools which allow us to thoroughly integrate measures of ecological structure and functioning. Aspects of the Metabolic Theory of Ecology, body-size relationships, stable isotope analysis and DNA bar- coding will all be covered in relation to topics such as photosynthetic and chemosynthetic primary production; the impacts of invasive species; aquatic-terrestrial linkages and cross ecosystem boundary subsidies; biogeochemistry and nutrient dynamics; plankton dynamics and organismal physiology in a changing world.
  • Statistics and Bioinformatics: This module is focussed on teaching data analysis using the statistical programming language R. The module covers the basics of using R; drawing publication-standard graphs with R; experimental design; exploratory data analysis; the fundamentals of statistical testing including t-tests and chi-square tests; ANOVA and Regression; fitting and interpreting general linear models; the basics of bioinformatic analysis in R. The module is taught with a mix of theory and practice, with a typical day including roughly two hours of theory instruction in the morning followed by a practical session in the afternoon, often involving hands-on analysis of real experimental data sets.
  • Quantitative Techniques for Surveying and Monitoring in Ecology: Through a series of lectures, workshops and data analyses classes in the first week, you will learn the theory behind designing and initiating surveys and monitoring campaigns for blue skies science, conservation & for management. In the subsequent week, you will be able to put the theory into practice at a field location such as Lake Windermere and environs, undertaking electric-fishing and hydroacoustic surveys for fish populations, a census for aquatic birds, and camera-trapping for aquatic mammals. Other skills like telemetry will be demonstrated.
  • Science into Policy and Management – Without knowledge, there can be no application. This module is designed to bring you 'face to face' with the regulators, policies and their science base, as these potential employers (e.g. CEFAS, Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England) will give lectures on topical issues. The focus is on human impacts upon ecosystems, including pollution and habitat alteration and how these can be mitigated. National and international legislation and directives are considered (e.g. EU Water Framework Directive). Guest lecturers will also include consultants who will be able to advise on career paths. As a detailed case study, you will visit the River Communities Group based in Dorset for one week and investigate the link between successful science and policy: for example, contemporary aspects of the EU Water Framework Directive will be considered, including underlying methodology behind bioassessment and biomonitoring (e.g. RIVPACS). This will be closely linked to how the Environment Agency is working with Defra Test Catchments (DTCs).
  • Ecological Theory and Applications - In this module we look at the theory behind our understanding of ecological systems and how that theory can be applied to ecological problems in the real world. Starting with populations of a single species we will progress to understanding twospecies interactions including predation, competition and parasitism and then to whole communities of interacting organisms. We will then study how ecological theory, used in concert with population genetics and evolutionary theory, can be applied to understanding ecological issues such as the conservation of small populations, harvesting natural populations and predicting responses to environmental change.
  • Marine Mammals and Turtles – The module focuses on the diversity, behaviour, ecology, physiology, conservation and management of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), and marine turtles. It covers such issues as the life history and migrations of turtles, their diving ability and behaviours, the social behaviour of dolphins, and the conservation of whales. It also includes (even though they are not mammals or reptiles!) a brief look at the sea-birds and sharks that will likely also be seen during field excursions. For part of the module you will be taught in the archipelago of Cape Verde, with boat trips for whales and shark observations, sea turtle monitoring. Mornings will be dedicated to lectures and workshops while afternoons and evening will be dedicated to hands-on practical experience.
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Field Course – The module comprises a residential field course lasting approximately 12 days, designed to allow students to develop their field skills in situ. Teaching will comprise a combination of lectures, demonstrations and practical assignments. These will span topics in taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, conservation and evolution. Students will also undertake their own mini-project. This field-based module will include coverage of ecological processes in tropical rainforests (decomposition, pollination and seed dispersal), rainforest structure and defining characteristics (including the importance of rainforests as centres of biodiversity), and anthropogenic factors affecting rainforests (including disturbance, forest fragmentation and agriculture).

Student handbook

Find out more about this programme in the Freshwater and Marine Ecology student handbook.

Research project

You will undertake a 24-week individual research project where you will collaborate with research groups within the Centre for the Aquatic and Terrestrial Environment, or with external agencies and charities like the Environment Agency, Wild Trout Trust, Froglife, or the Broads Authority.

Student publications

Examples of recent academic papers resulting from research projects:

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class BSc (Hons) degree (or equivalent international qualification) in a relevant subject such as environmental science, biology, chemistry or geography.  Applicants with a good lower second class degree may be considered on an individual basis, taking into account relevant background and related achievements.

This programme includes one compulsory overseas field course.  Students must choose one fieldwork option in Cape Verde or Borneo.  Costs for flights, accommodation and meals are fully covered by the tuition fees - you will not have to contribute additional funds towards this field trip.  Costs for compulsory fieldwork with the UK are also covered by the tuition fees.

English language requirements

All international students are required to provide evidence of their ability in English language.

The minimum level required for entry to our postgraduate programmes is:

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) - 6.5 (with a minimum of 6.0 in writing)
  • WELT (Warwick English Language Test) – BBC/BCC
  • TEEP (Test of English for Educational Purposes) – 6.5
  • Cambridge ESOL Certificate in Advanced English – B
  • Cambridge ESOL Certificate of Proficiency in English – C

For further information about our English language requirements please visit our international pages.

Am I eligible?

To check your eligibility contact our Postgraduate Admissions team:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3328

Learning and teaching

Our Freshwater and Marine Ecology programme combines traditional lectures and practicals with a diverse range of learning formats. Group work, student presentations and open discussion/debate are an integral part of the programme, giving you the chance to develop communication and team-working skills. We take pride in cultivating a close-knit and friendly working relationship between academics and students on this programme. You will benefit from small group teaching, normally no more than 15 students in each seminar, allowing for a more intensive learning experience and increased interaction.

Teaching and assessment

You will take six taught modules, which make up 50% of your final grade. These will be assessed through a mixture of reports, essays, practicals, presentations and multiple choice questions.

Your taught modules take place in blocks of two weeks of full-time teaching (normally 9am-5pm), followed by weeklong study breaks for independent learning and coursework. Most modules are taught through lectures during the morning, with practicals, seminars, discussion groups and workshops taking place in the afternoon.

You will also have opportunities for fieldwork, including a weeklong field course, usually in Cumbria, and a tropical ecology field course, usually in Borneo.  Much of the theory covered in your taught modules you will apply in a real research context during these field courses.

Your research project and dissertation is 50% of the final grade and typically involves field sampling, experimentation, laboratory work and data analysis.

Independent study

You are encouraged to use your independent study time to engage with current researchers in the labs, or volunteer for extra fieldwork, thereby giving you first-hand experience of the research environment. You will also have opportunities to attend lab meetings, shadow PhD students and gain a full understanding of the research taking place in our department before deciding on your own research project.


You will undertake a supervised independent research project and dissertation.

Recent dissertation topics by students from this programme include the following:

  • Conservation Genetics of loggerhead sea turtles
  • Isoscapes of Jellyfish in the Irish Sea
  • Restauration Genetics of Brown Trout in South East England
  • Effects of microplastic on aquatic foodwebs
  • Feeding ecology of loggerhead sea turtles
  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics in marine ecosystems
  • Stable isotope analyses of kelp forests
  • Movement ecology of loggerhead sea turtles.
  • Effects of eutrophication on host-parasite interactions


Tuition fees for Home and EU students

2019/20 Academic Year

Full time £11,200
Part time £5,600

Tuition fees for International students

2019/20 Academic Year

Full time £21,950
Part time £10,975


There are a number of sources of funding available for Masters students.

These include a significant package of competitive Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) bursaries and scholarships in a range of subject areas, as well as external sources of funding.

Queen Mary bursaries and scholarships

We offer a range of bursaries and scholarships for Masters students including competitive scholarships, bursaries and awards, some of which are for applicants studying specific subjects.

Find out more about QMUL bursaries and scholarships.

Alternative sources of funding

Home/EU students can apply for a range of other funding, such as Professional and Career Development Loans, and Employer Sponsorship, depending on their circumstances and the specific programme of study.

Overseas students may be eligible to apply for a range of external scholarships and we also provide information about relevant funding providers in your home country on our country web pages.

Download our Postgraduate Funding Guide for detailed information about postgraduate funding options for Home/EU students.

Read more about alternative sources of funding for Home/EU students and for Overseas students.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 5079

Other financial help on offer at Queen Mary

We offer one to one specialist support on all financial and welfare issues through our Advice and Counselling Service, which you can access as soon as you have applied for a place at Queen Mary.

Our Advice and Counselling Service also has lots of Student Advice Guides on all aspects of finance including:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 8717

Graduate employment

With aquatic ecosystems under threat from multiple stressors, we have designed a programme to equip you with the necessary interdisciplinary practical skills and theoretical understanding for employment in this area or further research.

Careers in research-focused positions

Some of our graduates apply their degree knowledge directly, working in research-focused positions such as chemistry consultants, molecular microbiologists and conservation officers in labs as far afield as Australia, South Africa and the USA. Many others pursue their academic interests from MSc to PhD-level, or from PhD to postdoctoral research associate or research fellows, and eventually to lectureships.

What are our graduates doing now?

Recent graduates from our masters degrees have gone on to do further research in the UK and abroad, including PhD positions at Queen Mary, Oxford University, University College London and at universities in the USA and New Zealand. Others have secured employment in industry and academia, including environmental consultancies, UK and overseas government agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, a global oil field services provider and as the head of a department at a university in Guyana.

The range of skills gained through our programmes, coupled with opportunities for extra-curricular activities, has enabled students to enter careers such as:

  • NERC funded CASE PhD studentship - Environment Agency
  • Internship - NERC
  • Curator - Natural History Museum
  • Community Learning and Engagement Officer - London Wildlife Trust
  • Aquatic Ecologist field post - Consultancy firm Ahern
  • Ecology Fisheries Ecologist - Brown May Marine
  • Research Chemist - Xention Research
  • Scientist - Phosphonics
  • Ecotoxicologist - ADAS UK Ltd
  • Consultant - HR Wallingford
  • Technical Officer - Environment Agency
  • Research Intern - Zoological Society of London

Career support at QMUL

Throughout the course, postgraduates have access to a careers programme to prepare them for applying for work after graduation. This programme includes workshops on job hunting and job applications as well as employer events to facilitate networks and help students to explore their options. Recent career events open to the School’s postgraduates include the SBCS Industrial Liaison Forum featuring small and medium sized employers, and workshops on applying for and doing a PhD.

Queen Mary’s location between Canary Wharf, the City and the Olympic Village redevelopment means that there are substantial opportunities for on campus and local part time work and work experience. On campus there are 1200 job and volunteer opportunities ranging from E-learning Assistant to Website Administrator and from Society President to Student Mentor. QTemps job agency offers work suitable for current students and recent graduates, QMSU Volunteering facilitates volunteering and QM JobOnline hosts over 800 part time and full time job vacancies.

Read more about our careers programmes and range of work experience opportunities on the QM Careers pages.


Charlotte Pike, Marine and Freshwater Ecology MSc, Class of 2017

What do you enjoy most about your course?

The field trips were definitely what drew me to study this course in particular, and they have not disappointed. It has been really valuable to be out in the field, learning practical skills from professionals. Included in this, we have been exposed to networking opportunities with industry professionals who have helped us throughout our time on the course, which has given great insight into the different pathways leading to careers that we may not have thought of before. Having just started working on our individual projects, I can definitely say this will be something I will really enjoy. It is giving us the opportunity to work independently and manage our own time both for research and write up, which are both very important life skills. I think overall it is difficult to pick out certain parts that I have enjoyed the most, as really all the aspects encompassed has made for such an amazing year.

What is it like being student in London?

I love being a student in London, there is always something going on and something you can be involved with. Especially when on a budget, there is plenty of free museums or exhibitions. QM also have a huge range of university clubs and social activities which is made better through the facilities surrounding the area. The transport links are also amazing, so you can always travel around London and very easily explore outside of London too.

What do you think of the facilities on campus & in your department?

I have never had a problem with any of the facilities at the university, meaning I have never needed something that hasn’t been provided. The library does become very crowded at peak times of the year, but the lecturers have always helped out and come up with solutions to provide space for us to study. The laboratory facilities are amazing and have some state of the art equipment. On all the field trips we have been provided with the necessary protective clothing and tools to perform our tasks effectively.

How do you think your course will help you in your future career?

The variety within the modules and the fact they are tailored for real world application will definitely help for future careers. It has been amazing to be given a whole module based solely on statistics, which has taken us back to basics for complete understanding. This will be necessary for almost any career we move into next, and to have that as a skill is extremely valuable. As well as this, all of the modules have included topics that are really relevant and current, so that we are up to date with science that we can be working with in the future.