Demystifying the Aquarist Job Description: Your Guide

scuba diver on a coral reef

If you are a person who has a passion for aquatic life, becoming an aquarist might be the right career move for you. Now, if you’re thinking, “What in the world is an aquarist?” I don’t blame you. 

Although this is certainly a viable career path out there, it’s one that many people don’t know a whole lot about. And, if you’re going to apply for a position as one, knowing what it is is the key to making sure you’re choosing the right career move. 

In this guide, I’ll dive beneath the surface and explore the depths of this intriguing career as an aquarist. We’ll go over detailed information about the job description, responsibilities, types of aquarists, work environment, educational requirements, necessary skills and qualifications, job outlook, average salary, and career growth prospects of an aquarist. All of this will help you understand the career entirely and make an informed decision about your potential career path. Let’s dive in!

What is an Aquarist?

 In short, an aquarist is a professional who ensures the health and well-being of the myriad of underwater creatures you may see during your visit to an aquarium. This could include anything from the vibrant and exotic clownfish you might recognize from “Finding Nemo” to the more elusive and mysterious species such as the majestic stingray. 

Other organisms an aquarist might be responsible for include fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and mammals that live in water. In essence, our role is akin to that of a caretaker for these mesmerizing creatures. 

Duties of an Aquarist

As an aquarist, the usual workday revolves around the well-being of the marine life you’re responsible for. Your duties may include: 

  • Regular feeding
  • Cleaning tanks
  • Maintaining water quality
  • Ensuring that the life support systems are functioning properly. 

Aquarists also monitor the health of the organisms, identify any sick or distressed creatures, and provide necessary medical treatment. In more complex environments, you may also help to design and create habitats that replicate the natural environments of the species you care for.

Different Types of Aquarists

As you delve deeper into the world of aquarist careers, you’ll discover that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all role. The field of aquarist work can be as diverse as the number of species in the ocean. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of aquarists to help you understand what I mean.

Home Aquarists

Perhaps the type of aquarist most of us are familiar with is the home aquarist. These individuals have a passion for aquatic life and choose to foster it right in their own homes. They maintain freshwater or saltwater aquariums, care for a variety of interesting species, and facilitate breeding programs. 

These aquarists are often self-taught hobbyists, but they play a crucial role in the industry by supporting aquatic pet supply businesses and advancing knowledge through home-bred species examples. 

Public Aquarium Aquarists

These professionals are responsible for the care and upkeep of aquatic exhibits in public spaces such as zoos and aquariums. Their work is highly visible and contributes to the educational mission of these institutions. 

For example, the mesmerizing display of colorful tropical fish at your local aquarium is maintained by a public aquarium aquarist. Along with daily feeding and tank cleaning duties, these aquarists often have public speaking duties, educating visitors about the exhibits and instilling a sense of appreciation for aquatic life.

Research Aquarists

If solving scientific mysteries of underwater life sounds exciting to you, the role of a research aquarist might be a perfect fit. These aquarists primarily work in academic or research institutions, managing aquatic life that is under study. 

They ensure the well-being of these organisms while also collecting valuable data for research purposes. They could be managing a tank of zebrafish being used in genetic studies, for example, ensuring the fish are healthy while also ensuring data from the study is accurately collected.

Examples of Aquarist Job Descriptions

Now that you have a general sense of what an aquarist is and how they work, let’s go over a couple of sample job descriptions. Remember, aquarists usually start as junior team members and then move into more senior roles. 

Here’s a glance at job descriptions for each.

Junior Aquarist Job Description

When starting out as a junior aquarist, you will assist senior aquarists with their daily tasks. This includes preparing food for the animals, assisting with regular water quality tests, and helping in cleaning the tanks. You will also aid in monitoring the organisms for signs of disease or distress, as well as carrying out everyday maintenance tasks. Consider this stage as your grooming period, where you learn the ropes and prepare to take on more responsibilities. 

Senior Aquarist Job Description

As a senior aquarist, you are like the team leader. Your responsibilities will be more multifaceted. You’ll oversee the maintenance of life support systems, plan and manage the diets for different species, and supervise breeding programs. Additionally, you’ll coordinate with veterinarians and carry out prescribed treatments. You’ll also mentor junior aquarists and guide them in their roles. 

The role as a senior aquarist may involve managing a team, ensuring that sealife is not only surviving but thriving. Senior aquarists and their team members work together in unison in everything from disease prevention to managing births in their aquatic family. 

Work Environment of an Aquarist

As an aquarist, you may find yourself working in a variety of settings. This isn’t a career that’s limited to just one type of work environment. Depending on your specific interests and career goals, you might work in: 

  • Public aquariums
  • Zoos
  • Marine parks
  • Pet stores
  • Research institutions. 

Each of these places offers a different perspective and set of experiences in the fascinating world of aquatic life. 

For instance, if you work in a zoo or marine park, you may find your tasks can go beyond standard care and feeding and extend to training and preparation for public presentations or interactions. On the other hand, if you’re in a research environment, tasks may look more like participating in breeding programs or conservation efforts aimed at preserving and understanding our world’s unique aquatic life.

Keep in mind that this job is quite dynamic and can vary greatly depending on what institution you work at.

Who is Eligible to be an Aquarist?

Deciding to pursue a career as an aquarist is an exciting venture, but it’s crucial to understand the educational requirements and skills needed to succeed in this unique field.

Let’s take a look at a few different requirements needed.

Educational Requirements

You might be wondering, what specific degrees do I need to become an aquarist? Generally, you need at least a Bachelor’s degree in marine biology, zoology, life sciences, or another related field. Earning a degree in these areas will provide the foundational knowledge of aquatic species and their habitats.

Additionally, while not always necessary, a Master’s degree in a related field or a specific certification could make you more competitive in the job market and may be a requirement for more advanced or specialized roles.

Practical Experience

Theory alone isn’t always enough, either. Many employers look for practical experience, making internships and work placements invaluable. For example, you could intern at a local aquarium or marine conservation center – not only will this provide hands-on experience, but it could also open doors for a full-time role in the future.

Certifications and Licenses

You may also need certain certifications or licenses to work with specific animals or in certain environments. For example, being a certified diver is often a job requirement. This not only allows you access to the water-filled environments you’ll be managing but also opens up more opportunities, such as fieldwork or conducting research dives.

Job Prospects and Salary for an Aquarist

If you’re thinking of becoming an aquarist, it’s likely that job prospects and salary are two concerns that may be on your mind. 

As far as job prospects go, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including aquarists, is predicted to grow about 3% from 2022 to 2032. Biodiversity conservation is a key concern globally, which means more and more roles are being created for professionals like us who can care for aquatic life and their habitats.

In terms of salary, According to PayScale, the average salary of an aquarist in the United States is approximately $16 per hour. But with years of experience and increased responsibilities, the pay can go up to $48,000 or more annually

So, as you can see, although the starting salaries may not be high, there is potential for growth and progression in this career. As you garner more experience and expertise, your earning potential increases.

Career Progression of an Aquarist

Starting a career as an Aquarist is an exciting journey, and there are multiple paths for career progression. Like any job, the journey begins with passion and dedication. Let’s dive a bit deeper into how an aquarist can advance in their career.

Remember, whatever path you choose, passion and continuous learning are key. As an Aquarist, you have a unique opportunity to contribute to environmental conservation and inspire others to do so. Keep soaking up knowledge and expanding your expertise, and there will always be new heights to reach in your career as an Aquarist.

Step 1: Junior Aquarist

As a beginner, your journey often starts at the junior level. A junior Aquarist is typically tasked with maintenance duties such as keeping aquarium tanks clean, feeding aquatic life, and monitoring water quality. It’s a hands-on role where you learn the fundamentals of aquarium care.

Step 2: Senior Aquarist

With experience, perseverance, and possibly further specialized study or certification, you can move up to a senior Aquarist position. The responsibility invites more complex tasks such as planning and designing aquatic exhibits, handling more delicate species, and managing breeding programs.

Step 3: Aquarium Manager

Having honed your skills as a senior Aquarist, you might get the opportunity to lead an entire team as an Aquarium Manager or Curator. This role involves coordinating activities in larger aquariums or zoo facilities, making administrative decisions, and overseeing the welfare of numerous species.

Step 4: Combining Career Paths

It’s even possible to choose a career path that combines your skills as an Aquarist with another passion. For example, if you have a love for education, you might pursue a role as an Educational Coordinator in an aquarium. This allows you to design educational programs conduct tours, and workshops for visitors.

Dive Into a Career as an Aquarist

Becoming an aquarist is not just about caring for aquatic life. It is a commitment to continuous learning, conservation, and creating public awareness about the intricate world that exists beneath the water’s surface. It’s a demanding profession but also deeply rewarding for those who are passionate about aquatic life. 

So if this path appeals to you, if you find yourself drawn to the mysterious underwater world and its inhabitants, if you’re seeking a career that combines responsibility, passion, and conservation, then remember that becoming an aquarist could provide you with an incredibly fulfilling journey. 

And, if you still need some more assistance in your career search along the way, feel free to check out our other articles. We’ve got more tips and tricks to help you launch a successful and rewarding career. 

FREE Email Course

High-Powered Resume Writing

Craft a resume that gets interviews!

Just 1 week to a new resume

Get Personalized Career Help Fast!

Email a career expert with your questions

Get personalized expert advice within 24 hours