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15+ Research Ideas in Marine Biology for High School Students

As an ambitious high school student interested in marine biology looking to better your chances of getting into a prestigious program, you may consider different options — from internships to summer schools — to improve your knowledge. If this sounds like you, then consider undertaking a research project! Marine ecosystems are intrinsically linked to climate change and healthy oceans, as food, water, and shelter sources, are necessary to sustain life.  

Marine biology is a vast field with multiple avenues for research. Not to mention, undertaking an intensive research project helps build skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication, and can go a long way in showcasing your demonstrated interest in a subject. Research experience will add value to your college application as it shows that you’re intellectually curious and have a great aptitude for learning.

Ambitious high school students selected for the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs work on a research area of their interest and receive 1-1 mentorship by top Ph.D. scholars.

Below are some marine biology research ideas for you to consider, some of which have been shared by our research mentors – we hope they inspire you!

Topic #1 - The Climate Crisis and its impact on marine biodiversity

Faced with climate change, our oceans are facing one of their most vulnerable moments in history. Understanding the intersection between climate change and marine biology is crucial to conserving and managing marine ecosystems. Global warming, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation — collectively known as the “deadly trio” — are making oceans increasingly inhospitable to life and inhibiting the functioning of marine ecosystems. As a researcher, you could conduct critical investigations within this field and suggest more sustainable practices to preserve the marine ecosystem. Depending on your research goals and how much time and resources you can commit, you could conduct either primary or secondary research.

Here are a few ideas you could choose from: 

1. Investigate how rising temperatures are affecting the migratory patterns of fish within a designated zone. Research where these species go and how the composition of marine communities affects interactions between species.

2. How does ocean acidification — when oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from the air — harm different kinds of marine species? What knock-on impact does acidification have on coastal communities that depend on the ocean for food and their livelihood?

3. Examine how corals are responding to climate change, how the change in oceanic temperatures affects their reef-building capabilities, and the knock-on effects.

4. Research changing ocean currents and circulation patterns and how they can impact the distribution of nutrients, affecting the productivity of marine ecosystems

5. Dive into the correlation and causation between extreme weather events and climate change. How does rising temperature affect the frequency and intensity of cyclones, hurricanes, and other natural disasters? 

Some of these ideas were contributed by Lumiere Mentors from the University of San Diego, California.

Topic #2 - Coastal economies and the marine ecosystem

Coastal economics and communities have a complex interaction with marine biodiversity, and their actions have both economic and ecological outcomes on the ocean. Marine and human health are closely connected — seafood is an integral part of coastal communities’ diet and marine-based products provide them with livelihood. As a researcher, you could investigate creating healthy marine socio-economic systems for the future, and consider diving deeper into some of the following ideas: 

6. Review the effectiveness of different nations’ coastal zone management policies and how well they balance economic vs. ecological needs. You could then compile your findings into a best practices list and suggest improvements to existing policies

7. Make a valuation of the economic services of a designated coastal region. This can include a valuation of fishing activities, tourism, ocean-sourced products, etc, and their contribution to the economy

8. Examine how marine conservation and tourism can go hand-in-hand. Suggest ways to ensure the sustainable development of coastal economies

9. Explore innovative practices in sustainable seafood production and their economic implications for coastal communities

10. Suggest adaptation strategies for coastal communities facing frequent extreme weather events. What steps can be taken to protect their homes and their livelihoods?

11. Study how marine pollution impacts coastal areas, marine biodiversity, and communities’ livelihoods

Topic #3 - Exploring marine genomics

Marine genomics provides critical clues to understanding how life evolved underwater and how marine animals contribute to the ecosystem and create new chemicals and materials. Life has evolved from the ocean, and marine genomics has been used to study the short - and long-term effects of pollution on sea animals, their evolution, and genetic commonalities between fish in a particular region, to name a few. As a marine genome researcher, you could extract meaningful data about the origin and evolution of species and how they may adapt to changing environments. 

Here are a few research ideas related to marine genomics that you could consider:

12. Examine how environmental DNA is found in aquatic ecosystems. Here, you can learn about different molecular techniques and use them in marine or freshwater invasive species management. 

13. Study how human activity (pollution, fishing, habitat destruction) has impacted marine genomes and how other anthropogenic factors have influenced adaptation and genetic diversity in marine organisms.

14. Study the genome of an endangered marine species to understand what genetic factors contribute to its vulnerability. Suggest and develop conservation strategies. 

15. Examine aquatic species that survive in extreme climates (deep-sea vents, polar regions, etc). Study their genomes to understand what genetic features allow them to thrive in such conditions.

16. Undertake a comparative genomics study: choose two organisms from different marine families and compare the similarities and differences in their genomes. Research into how their genomic variations could be due to their habitat, adaptations, and specific behavior.

Some of these ideas were proposed by independent Lumiere Mentors.

Topic #4 - Ocean-based solutions for global challenges

The ocean can address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from reducing emissions to producing clean energy, improving food security, and much more. Further, studies show that ocean-based climate solutions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 35%. As a researcher, you could help contribute to critical research that can help limit pollution and create sustainable practices.

Some research ideas you can consider include:

17. Investigate how introducing artificial coastal reefs and other techniques to restore habitats can help improve marine biodiversity.

18. Study the effect of plastic pollution on marine life and examine the benefits of adopting more eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging materials. Develop new methods to remove plastic from the ocean.

19. Study carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing excess carbon dioxide. How can coastal ecosystems like mangroves, saltmarshes, seagrasses, etc. help mitigate C02 emissions?

20. Study more sustainable and effective practices for ocean farming.

21. Research different marine organisms that have a positive environmental impact (for example, seaweed helps remove toxins from the water and has a negative carbon footprint).

The ideas offered here are by no means exhaustive, and you could come up with your own research interests once you’ve dug deeper into a topic that interests you!

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in marine biology or other STEM subjects, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.

Image Source: Unsplash


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