Aquarist: what they do, how to become one, and where to study
Are you fascinated by the vibrant world that exists beneath the surface of the water? Do you have a deep love for aquatic life and a desire to care for and nurture it? If so, then the profession of an aquarist might be the perfect fit for you. As an aquarist, you get to work with a variety of aquatic species, create stunning underwater environments, and contribute to the well-being of marine life. In this article, we'll explore the world of aquarists, their responsibilities, career prospects, and how to become one. By the way, recently the ProfGuide career guidance center has developed a precise career orientation test, which will tell you which professions are suitable for you, provide a conclusion about your personality type and intelligence.
Aquarists can specialize in various areas depending on their interests and the type of aquatic life they wish to work with. Some common specializations within the field of aquaristry include:
- Marine Aquarist: These aquarists focus on saltwater environments and marine species, such as tropical fish, corals, and invertebrates. They ensure the proper maintenance and care of marine aquariums.
- Freshwater Aquarist: Freshwater aquarists work with freshwater species like tropical fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants. They create and manage freshwater aquariums, ensuring the health and well-being of the inhabitants.
- Research Aquarist: Research aquarists work in laboratories or research facilities, assisting scientists in studying aquatic life. They may be involved in data collection, experimentation, and the maintenance of research aquariums.
- Public Aquarium Aquarist: Public aquariums employ aquarists to care for and manage the exhibits. They are responsible for the overall maintenance of the aquarium tanks, feeding the animals, monitoring water quality, and educating visitors.
Tasks and Responsibilities
The tasks and responsibilities of an aquarist may vary depending on their specialization and work environment. However, some common responsibilities include:
- Designing and maintaining aquarium systems, including filtration, lighting, and temperature control.
- Monitoring water quality parameters such as pH, ammonia levels, and temperature.
- Feeding and providing proper nutrition for aquatic animals.
- Observing and assessing the behavior, health, and well-being of aquatic species.
- Conducting regular maintenance and cleaning of aquarium tanks and equipment.
- Creating enriching environments for the animals, including the addition of plants, rocks, and hiding spots.
- Educating the public about aquatic life, conservation, and responsible pet ownership.
Pros and Cons
Like any profession, being an aquarist has its own set of advantages and challenges. Here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Opportunity to work closely with fascinating aquatic species and contribute to their well-being.
- Flexibility in choosing a specialization within the field of aquaristry.
- The ability to educate and inspire others about the wonders of the underwater world.
- Continuous learning and growth through staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in aquarist techniques and practices.
- Potential for personal fulfillment and satisfaction from creating and maintaining beautiful aquatic habitats.
- Physically demanding work that may involve heavy lifting, water changes, and tank maintenance.
- The need for strict attention to detail and adherence to protocols to ensure the health and safety of aquatic life.
- Working conditions can sometimes be challenging, such as handling toxic or aggressive species or dealing with water-related hazards.
- Limited job opportunities in certain geographic areas, especially outside of major cities.
Aquarists are sought after in countries with a strong interest in aquariums, marine conservation, and research. The demand for aquarists may vary in different countries. Here is a brief overview of the demand for aquarists in the USA, Canada, GB, and Australia:
USA: With a large number of public and private aquariums, the demand for aqu arists in the USA is relatively high. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have renowned aquariums and marine research institutions that often hire qualified aquarists.
Canada: Canada also has a growing demand for aquarists, particularly in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. Public aquariums, research centers, and educational institutions are the main employers in this field.
GB (United Kingdom): The United Kingdom has a thriving aquarium industry, particularly in cities like London, Edinburgh, and Plymouth. Public aquariums, zoos, and marine research organizations offer employment opportunities for skilled aquarists.
Australia: Given its vast coastline and diverse marine ecosystems, Australia has a strong demand for aquarists. Cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth are home to renowned public aquariums and marine conservation organizations that require qualified professionals.
The salary range for aquarists can vary depending on factors such as experience, specialization, location, and the type of employer. Here is a general overview of the salary ranges for aquarists in the mentioned countries:
USA: The average annual salary for aquarists in the USA ranges from $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the level of experience and the type of employer. Experienced aquarists working in reputable institutions or specialized areas can earn higher salaries.
Canada: Aquarists in Canada can expect an average annual salary of $35,000 to $55,000, with variations based on qualifications, experience, and location. Salaries may be higher in major cities and for those working in research or specialized areas.
GB (United Kingdom): In the United Kingdom, aquarists earn an average annual salary of £18,000 to £30,000. However, experienced aquarists with advanced qualifications or managerial positions can earn higher salaries, ranging up to £40,000 or more.
Australia: Aquarists in Australia earn an average annual salary of AUD 40,000 to AUD 60,000. The salaries may vary depending on the location, the size of the institution, and the level of experience.
Where Do Aquarists Work?
Aquarists work in various settings depending on their specialization and the nature of their work. Some common work environments for aquarists include:
- Public Aquariums: Aquarists are employed by public aquariums to manage and maintain their exhibits, ensuring the health and well-being of the aquatic species.
- Research Facilities: Aquarists may work in research facilities or laboratories, assisting scientists in studying marine life, conducting experiments, and collecting data.
- Educational Institutions: Colleges, universities, and educational institutions with aquatic science programs often employ aquarists to maintain teaching aquariums and assist with research projects.
- Zoos: Some zoos have dedicated aquatic exhibits and employ aquarists to care for the aquatic animals, manage the aquarium systems, and educate visitors.
- Private Aquarium Services: Aquarists may work for private aquarium installation and maintenance companies, providing services to individual clients or businesses.
Important Qualities of a Successful Aquarist
To excel in the profession of an aquarist, certain qualities and skills are essential. Here are some important qualities of a successful aquarist:
- Passion for Aquatic Life: A genuine love and enthusiasm for aquatic species and their well-being is crucial. Aquarists should be driven by a desire to provide the best care possible for the animals under their responsibility.
- Attention to Detail: Aquarists must pay close attention to the details of water quality, animal behavior, and tank conditions. They need to be observant and proactive in identifying and addressing potential issues.
- Physical Stamina: The work of an aquarist can be physically demanding, involving tasks like lifting heavy equipment, performing water changes, and maintaining large aquarium systems. Physical stamina and fitness are important to handle these tasks effectively.
- Problem-Solving Skills: Aquarists often encounter challenges related to water quality, animal health, and equipment maintenance. Strong problem-solving skills are essential to identify issues, troubleshoot problems, and find appropriate solutions.
- Communication and Education: Aquarists often interact with visitors, colleagues, and researchers. Effective communication skills, both verbal and written, are important for educating others about aquatic life, sharing knowledge, and collaborating with team members.
Step-by-Step Career Path
While the specific career path may vary, here is a generalized step-by-step guide to becoming an aquarist:
- Education: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent. Focus on biology, chemistry, and other science-related courses.
- Volunteering or Internships: Seek opportunities to volunteer or intern at aquariums, research facilities, or educational institutions to gain hands-on experience and exposure to the field.
- Pursue Higher Education (Optional): Consider obtaining a bachelor's degree in marine biology, zoology, aquatic sciences, or a related field. While not always required, higher education can enhance job prospects and provide a deeper understanding of aquatic ecosystems.
- Gain Experience: Look for entry-level positions or assistant roles at aquariums, research facilities, or related organizations. This will provide valuable experience and allow you to develop practical skills in aquarium maintenance, animal care, and water quality management.
- Specialize and Build Expertise: Determine your area of interest within aquaristry, such as marine or freshwater aquarist, research aquarist, or public aquarium aquarist. Continuously seek opportunities to expand your knowledge and expertise in that specific field.
- Network and Professional Development: Attend industry conferences, join professional organizations, and connect with other aquarists to expand your network and stay updated on industry trends and advancements.
- Career Advancement: As you gain experience and expertise, you can progress to more senior positions, such as senior aquarist, exhibit curator, or research coordinator. Leadership and management roles may also become available.
How to Become an Aquarist
In the USA, the path to becoming an aquarist does not always require a formal degree. However, having a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as marine biology or zoology, can enhance job prospects and provide a solid foundation of knowledge.
Higher education programs in marine biology or aquatic sciences typically take four years to complete. These programs offer coursework and practical training in marine ecosystems, aquatic animal husbandry, water chemistry, and research methodologies. Some universities may offer specialized programs in aquaristry or aquarium science.
While higher education is valuable, hands-on experience is equally important. Volunteering or interning at aquariums, research facilities, or educational institutions during or after completing your education can provide valuable practical skills and networking opportunities.
Certifications, such as those offered by the Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators (AALSO), can also demonstrate your expertise and dedication to the profession. These certifications focus on water quality management, life support systems, and best practices in aquarist operations.
Where to Become an Aquarist
If you're interested in pursuing a career as an aquarist, here are five examples of institutions in each of the mentioned countries where you can start your journey:
- Monterey Bay Aquarium - California
- Shedd Aquarium - Illinois
- Georgia Aquarium - Georgia
- New England Aquarium - Massachusetts
- Seattle Aquarium - Washington
- Vancouver Aquarium - British Columbia
- Ripley's Aquarium of Canada - Ontario
- Montreal Biodome - Quebec
- Maritime Aquarium - Nova Scotia
- Toronto Zoo - Ontario
- Sea Life London Aquarium - London
- The Deep - Hull
- National Marine Aquarium - Plymouth
- Blue Planet Aquarium - Cheshire Oaks
- Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary - Oban
- SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium - Sydney
- Melbourne Aquarium - Melbourne
- AQWA - Perth
- Reef HQ Aquarium - Townsville
- UnderWater World - Sunshine Coast
Can You Enter the Profession with a Different Degree?
While a degree in a relevant field like marine biology or zoology is advantageous, it is possible to enter the profession of an aquarist with a different degree or without a degree. Practical experience, internships, and volunteering in aquariums or related facilities can provide the necessary hands-on training and exposure to the field.
However, it's important to note that aquarist positions may be competitive, and having a degree in a related field can give you an advantage over other candidates. Additionally, pursuing certifications in aquarist operations or aquatic animal care can further demonstrate your commitment and knowledge in the field.
In conclusion, being an aquarist offers a rewarding career working with aquatic life, creating beautiful underwater environments, and contributing to conservation efforts. By gaining the necessary education, experience, and skills, you can embark on a fulfilling journey in this unique and captivating profession.