Marine Science

This is content from the Catalog 2019–2020 back issue. Please visit the current catalog for current information.

Department Chair: Steven “Steve” Colbert , Ph.D.


Faculty Emeriti:

  • Walter Dudley, Jr., Ph.D.


Associate Professors:

Assistant Professors:


Adjunct Associate Professor:

Affiliate Faculty:

Educational Specialists:

Marine Science is a well-rounded and multi-disciplinary program which has been carefully designed to take full advantage of the unique variety of marine environments available for study around the island of Hawaiʻi. Introductory lecture and laboratory courses in general oceanography and marine biology are followed by intermediate-level courses in marine ecology and evolution, marine methods, and statistical applications in marine science. The most advanced level of the degree programs is composed of specialized courses in geological, chemical, physical, and biological oceanography and electives. The programs culminate in a capstone sequence, allowing students to focus on independent projects involving research or applied internships.


We will be an international leader in marine science education and research. Our kuleana (responsibility and privilege) is to provide student-focused, transformative, authentic science experiences, drawing from the unique natural and cultural environment of Hawaiʻi. Our graduates will be broadly equipped to become innovative members of the global workforce, successful life-long learners, and engaged stewards of the marine environment. Faculty, staff, and students will collaborate and draw upon each other’s strengths and diversity to achieve our shared vision of student success.


The marine science program at UH Hilo inspires and enlightens all learners about the ocean through interactive hands-on learning, research involvement, and community outreach centered on the natural and cultural environment of Hawaiʻi Island. This is supported by a broad background in the marine sciences, including fundamental knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and mathematics.

Program Learning Goals

The Marine Science Program trains students in the primary disciplines in Marine Science and offers a wide diversity of courses in numerous sub-disciplines. The two degree options (B.A. and B.S.) provide students with opportunities to fulfill personal goals.

  • Content goals—provide students with a solid background in:
    • The primary sciences and mathematics, including proficiency in chemistry, physics, calculus, computer applications related to the natural sciences, and laboratory techniques;
    • Marine science, including proficiency in marine biology, introductory oceanography, marine ecology, chemical oceanography, geological oceanography, and physical oceanography;
    • Advanced multidisciplinary undergraduate training in their choice of a variety of focal areas, including, but not limited to, geography, geology, biology, fisheries, and aquaculture.
  • General goals—provide students with knowledge of and experience in:
    • The scientific method and critical thinking, including the ability to design and carry out an inquiry-based research or internship project, analyze primary scientific literature, write a scientific proposal, and write a research paper or compile a portfolio;
    • Scientific speech and discussion, including the ability to formally present a science project and discuss scientific issues.
  • Technical goals—provide students with an understanding of and proficiency in:
    • Laboratory safety;
    • Oceanographic and marine biological laboratory methods and field techniques;
    • The use and application of bio-statistical and computer techniques;
    • Experimental design, data analysis, and interpretation of results, particularly in the use and application of marine monitoring techniques.

Goals for Student Learning in the Major

  • SLO1: Explain core concepts in marine biology and oceanography.
  • SLO2: Examine and discuss current scientific issues using information from a variety of sources including the primary literature and from class content.
  • SLO3: Describe, and apply, key concepts of lab and field safety.
  • SLO4: Perform core oceanographic and marine biology-based lab techniques.
  • SLO5: Access the primary literature to find scholarly articles that discuss the results of experiments.
  • SLO6: Summarize scholarly articles from the primary literature, and synthesize summarized information into a literature review.
  • SLO7: Write a testable hypothesis.
  • SLO8: Design and carry out a controlled scientific experiment.
  • SLO9: Choose and use appropriate statistical methods to analyze experimental data.
  • SLO10: Report experimental results in graphs and tables.
  • SLO11: Interpret graphically presented data.
  • SLO12: Draw conclusions from experimental results.
  • SLO13: Write a scientific paper that reports the results of an experiment, following accepted guidelines for publication in a scientific journal.
  • SLO14: Create and deliver an oral presentation appropriate for a scientific conference or symposium.
  • SLO15: Apply knowledge gained from courses by interacting with global and/or local communities.

Prospects for Graduates

A Marine Science degree from UH Hilo opens doors to a wide variety of jobs, careers, graduate schools, and post-graduate opportunities. Employment possibilities following the B.A. include positions as marine research technicians, with marine-oriented government agencies and non-profit organizations, in eco-tourism, as teachers in public and private schools, and in the practice of environmental law. UH Hilo B.S. graduates are well prepared to continue to graduate schools in Hawaiʻi, in the continental USA, or overseas in pursuit of higher degrees and careers in management, secondary school education, academia, and research. Medical, dental, and veterinary schools are also post-graduate options for UH Hilo Marine Science graduates.

Special Aspects of the Marine Science Program

Marine Vessels

The Marine Science Department manages a fleet of marine vessels used for education and research. The R/V Makani ‘Aha, a 38-foot research/education monohull catamaran is used to support marine science courses and student research and is capable of carrying up to 18 students and deploying a CTD, current meters, drogues, sediment coring apparatuses, and plankton nets. An 18-foot Larson motorboat is used as a nearshore research vessel and two Zodiac inflatables support scuba diving operations.

SCUBA Diving

We collaborate with UH Diving Safety Program and the UH Hilo Unit Diving Coordinator to maintain an inventory of scuba equipment for research diver training and in situ research projects.

Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory

The Marine Science department houses a scanning electron microscope and elemental analysis facility. Classes in oceanography and marine biology use the facility as part of the curriculum. Students can also take a course on basic principles of operation and applications, if interested, and then use the facility to conduct research as part of their degree program.

The Marine Option Program (MOP)

The Marine Option Program (MOP) is a certificate program available to all undergraduate students at the University of Hawaiʻi, regardless of major. The program has branches on campuses throughout the UH system. The MOP certificate is earned by completing selected course work and completing a hands‑on project or internship, thus combining academic requirements with practical experience in an area of marine interest of the student’s choice. Each year MOP sponsors a Student Skill Project Symposium where selected students gain valuable experience by presenting the results of their projects. The site for the symposium rotates among UH campuses. UH Hilo MOP also coordinates QUEST (Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques), the annual UH system-wide scuba research techniques course.

MOP also serves as the UH Hilo center for marine-related activities. UH Hilo MOP offers students experience in a variety of skills, including research, underwater photography, sailing and seamanship, fishing, snorkeling, and kayaking. MOP students often participate in tagging Green Sea Turtles in an on-going research program carried out in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and also work with NOAA to respond to injured sea turtle rescue. MOP also sponsors seminars, films, field trips, and short courses on various marine-related subjects. All UH Hilo students are invited to take part in MOP-sponsored activities.

The Marine Science Summer Program

The Marine Science Summer Program has received the Excellence of Program Award from the Western Association of Summer Session Administrators, which represents some 80 colleges and universities in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. Course offerings vary yearly and may include courses on marine mammals, marine reptiles, coral reef ecology, small boat handling, advanced oceanography laboratory skills, and marine monitoring techniques. Summer courses in marine science combine classroom instruction with hands-on experience in the field and lab, and a primary goal of the program is to provide students with extensive personal attention.


QUEST stands for Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques, which is a special summer course taught in May each year. QUEST is designed to train undergraduates in underwater ecological surveying methodologies, including the design, implementation and analysis of a research project, and incorporates instruction in the identification of the common seaweeds, corals, invertebrates, and fishes of Hawaiian reefs. This unique two-week course involves classroom instruction coupled with extensive practical instruction surveying coral reefs off the west coast of Hawaiʻi using SCUBA.