What is an Aquarist? A Guide on What They Do & How to Become One

    become an aquarist

    Many of us marvel at the stunning displays of marine life in aquariums, yet few realize the depth of knowledge and experience required to create and maintain such captivating environments. Before one can become an expert in aquarium conservation, a comprehensive understanding of aquaculture science is required.

    Aquaculture Science: A Vital Field of Study

    Aquaculture science is the practice of growing aquatic organisms such as fish, shellfish, and plants in controlled environments. This field is crucial because it contributes to food security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, aquaculture accounted for about 46% of the total fish supply in 2018, highlighting the importance of this field.

    What is an Aquarist?

    An aquarist is a specialized animal caretaker who focuses on the health and well-being of marine life within aquariums. Their work is not just restricted to fish but extends to all forms of marine life, including corals, mollusks, sea anemones, turtles, and more. These professionals are responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and healthy environment for these organisms to thrive. They are often employed by public aquariums, zoos, research institutions, or even private collectors who have large, complex aquatic installations.

    Aquarists need a strong understanding of marine biology and ecology, along with practical skills in areas like water chemistry management, tank maintenance, specimen handling, and emergency animal care. They often work closely with marine biologists and veterinarians to ensure the best possible care for the animals in their charge.

    Roles and Responsibilities of an Aquarist

    The day-to-day responsibilities of an aquarist can be varied and challenging:


    Aquarists are responsible for providing appropriate nutrition to the marine animals in their care. This involves understanding the dietary needs of different species, preparing meals, and monitoring feeding behaviors.

    Cleaning and Maintenance

    Aquarists regularly clean tanks and other enclosures to keep them free from harmful algae, waste, and other potential contaminants. They also maintain and repair equipment like pumps, filters, and lighting systems.

    Health Monitoring

    Regular checks of each animal’s health is critical. This includes looking for signs of disease or distress, ensuring proper growth, and liaising with veterinary staff when necessary.

    Exhibit Design

    Many aquarists take part in designing and setting up new exhibits. This can involve coordinating with other teams, planning for the specific needs of each species, and creating aesthetically pleasing displays that educate and entertain visitors.

    Education and Outreach

    Aquarists often interact with the public, providing information about the animals and their habitats. They might give presentations, conduct tours, or create educational materials to promote marine conservation.

    Research and Conservation

    Some aquarists are involved in research initiatives or conservation programs. This can include breeding endangered species, studying animal behaviors, and contributing to global conservation efforts.

    Becoming an Aquarist: Your Career Passion?

    If you find yourself captivated by the mysteries of marine life and the complexities of biology, then a career as an aquarist could be the perfect fit for you. Embarking on this professional journey is no small feat; it necessitates comprehensive knowledge backed by a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, zoology, or a related field.

    In addition to academic credentials, practical skills are essential. As an aquarist, you may often find yourself diving into aquarium tanks for cleaning, feeding, and monitoring the health of the marine life, making scuba diving certification an indispensable part of your skill set. Furthermore, dealing with live creatures means that CPR certification becomes a critical requirement, equipping you for any potential emergency situations.

    Beyond the technical and practical skills, an effective aquarist also needs to possess a range of soft skills:

    Customer Service Skills

    Aquarists often interact with the public, providing information about the animals and their habitats. As such, strong customer service skills are crucial for effectively engaging with visitors and fostering a positive image of the institution.

    Attention to Detail

    Aquarists must monitor the health and behavior of a variety of marine species, requiring a keen eye for detail. They need to notice subtle changes in an animal’s behavior or appearance, which could indicate illness or distress.

    Problem-Solving Abilities

    Aquarists face a myriad of challenges, from maintaining optimal tank conditions to diagnosing and treating animal illnesses. Good problem-solving skills enable them to identify issues and implement effective solutions.

    Interpersonal Skills

    Aquarists often work as part of a team, coordinating with other aquarists, biologists, veterinarians, and aquarium staff. The ability to communicate effectively and work cooperatively with others is vital.

    Physical Stamina

    The job of an aquarist can be physically demanding, involving tasks like cleaning tanks, handling equipment, and sometimes diving. Good physical fitness and stamina are therefore important.

    Career Prospects and Salary Expectations for Aquarists

    The role of an aquarist is versatile, offering opportunities in a variety of settings. You could find work in public aquariums, zoos, marine research facilities, theme parks, or even private collections.

    As for career growth, the prospects are promising. Aquarists are expected to see a 16–28% growth in employment over the upcoming ten years in the field of animal care and service workers. This growth rate is significantly higher than the average for all occupations, indicating that aquarists will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

    When it comes to earnings, while the average salary for aquarists is reported to be around $34,000 per year, it’s worth noting that the figures can vary depending on factors like location, level of experience, and the size of the employing organization. For instance, some sources indicate that the median salary for aquarists could reach up to $51,500 per year.

    Charting Your Course as an Aquarist

    In a world increasingly aware of the importance of conservation, the role of an aquarist has never been more significant. As an aquarist, you become a custodian of marine life, ensuring their health and wellbeing while fostering an environment for them to thrive. But beyond the aquarium tanks, your work also contributes to the larger narrative of marine conservation, educating the public and inspiring a new generation to respect and protect our marine ecosystems.

    As we’ve explored in this guide, becoming an aquarist requires a blend of academic knowledge, practical skills, and soft skills. It’s a challenging yet incredibly rewarding career path that allows you to combine your passion for marine life with a meaningful profession.

    Upon acquiring the necessary qualifications and skills, numerous job opportunities open up. You could find work in public aquariums, zoos, marine research facilities, or theme parks. Some aquarists even find employment with private collectors who maintain large aquatic installations. Furthermore, with experience, you could progress into roles such as senior aquarist, curator, or even director of an aquarium.

    And it doesn’t stop there. Your expertise as an aquarist can also lead to roles in marine conservation projects, marine animal rehabilitation centers, or educational institutions where you can teach the next generation about marine biology and conservation. Each of these roles not only offers a unique set of challenges and rewards but also contributes to the broader goal of preserving our planet’s precious marine ecosystems.

    In conclusion, if you have a love for marine life and a desire to make a difference, becoming an aquarist could be your ticket to a fulfilling career. It’s a profession that combines care, creativity, and conservation, allowing you to play your part in protecting our blue planet.