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What Does an Aquarist Do?

What Does an Aquarist Do?
By MegaInterview Company Career Coach

An aquarist is a professional responsible for caring for and maintaining aquatic life in captivity. This can include fish, invertebrates, and plants in both saltwater and freshwater environments.


Aquarists work in various settings, such as public aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and the ornamental fish industry. They are responsible for providing the optimal living conditions for their aquatic charges, including the appropriate temperature, pH levels, and water quality.

Aquarists also feed and monitor the health of their animals and may be involved in breeding programs and educating the public about the species in their care. The role of an aquarist is crucial in ensuring the well-being of these animals and preserving aquatic life for future generations to enjoy.

Aquarist Duties and Responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of an aquarist can vary depending on the type and size of the facility they work in. However, some common responsibilities include the following:

  • Maintaining the water quality and chemistry of the aquatic environments, including checking pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels.
  • Feeding and caring for the aquatic animals, including monitoring their health and behavior.
  • Cleaning and maintaining the tanks and equipment, such as filters, pumps, and lighting systems.
  • Keeping accurate records of the animals in their care, including their species, sex, age, and any health or behavioral issues.
  • Breeding and raising aquatic animals in captivity, including selecting appropriate breeding pairs, incubating eggs, and caring for the young.
  • Monitoring and controlling the population of aquatic animals in the exhibit, including managing their breeding and implementing measures to control the spread of disease.
  • Performing routine health check and providing basic medical treatments.
  • Interacting with visitors and providing them with information about the animals and their care.
  • Maintaining safety for animals, visitors and self and to follow safety guidelines as per work place.
  • Continuously upgrade professional knowledge and skill through attending trainings, webinars and reading professional material.

Aquarists often work as part of a team and may also be responsible for training and supervising other staff members and volunteers. Some aquarists also have research or educational roles, such as conducting research on aquatic species or developing educational programs for visitors.

Aquarist Job Requirements

Common requirements include the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, marine biology, or a related field, although some facilities may hire candidates with an associate’s degree and relevant experience.
  • Experience working with aquatic animals through internships or previous employment in a related field.
  • Knowledge of aquatic animal husbandry, including feeding, breeding, and water chemistry.
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills, as aquarists, often interact with visitors, staff members, and other professionals.
  • Strong problem-solving and analytical skills, as aquarists may need to troubleshoot issues with equipment or animal behavior.
  • Physical stamina and strength, as the job may involve lifting heavy tanks and equipment, and the ability to work in potentially wet, humid conditions.
  • Willingness to work flexible schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays, as many facilities are open seven days a week.
  • Ability to work in a physically demanding, fast-paced environment.
  • Basic computer literacy and the ability to learn new software.
  • Basic knowledge of first aid, if not, willingness to undergo first aid training.
  • Willingness to take up additional courses or certifications to upgrade professional skills.
  • Strong interest in conservation and environmental education.

Some facilities may also require aquarists to have certifications such as Marine Aquarium Society of North America (MASNA) or the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA) or any other relevant certifications.

Aquarist Skills

In addition to the job requirements, there are a number of skills that are beneficial for an aquarist to have:

  • Technical Skills: Understanding of water chemistry, filtration systems, plumbing, and other equipment used in maintaining aquatic environments.
  • Animal Care Skills: Knowledge of proper feeding, behavior, and care for a wide range of aquatic species, as well as the ability to recognize signs of illness and distress.
  • Research Skills: Familiarity with research methods and the ability to design and conduct studies on aquatic animals and their environments.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: The ability to troubleshoot issues with equipment and animal behavior and to come up with creative solutions.
  • Communication Skills: The ability to communicate effectively with other staff members, visitors, and other professionals, both verbally and in writing.
  • Leadership Skills: Leading and motivating other staff members and volunteers.
  • Time Management Skills: The ability to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively in order to meet deadlines and keep up with the demands of the job.
  • Physical Stamina: The ability to lift heavy tanks and equipment and to work in potentially wet, humid conditions.
  • Flexibility: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to work effectively in a fast-paced, dynamic environment.
  • Creativity: The ability to come up with new ideas and approaches to exhibit design and animal care.
  • Empathy and Patience: Understanding the needs of the animals in care and patience in observing, caring and helping them.
  • Teamwork: The ability to work effectively as part of a team and to build strong working relationships with colleagues.

Additional skills in areas such as public speaking, education or training, and computer literacy can also benefit an aquarist, as they may be called upon to give presentations, develop educational programs, and use software to manage data and perform other tasks related to the job.

Aquarist Salary

The salary for an aquarist can vary depending on several factors, such as the type and size of the facility they work in, their level of experience and education, and the location of the facility.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for zookeepers and aquarists is $34,250, but that can be different depending on the location and the type of facility. Aquarists working in larger, well-funded facilities, such as aquariums or marine parks, may earn higher salaries than those working in smaller, nonprofit organizations.

Some examples of the salary range for an Aquarist

  • Entry-level aquarists may earn around $20,000 to $30,000 per year.
  • Experienced aquarists can earn between $30,000 and $60,000 per year.
  • Senior aquarists or managers can earn between $50,000 and $80,000 per year.
  • Aquarists working in larger and well-funded institutions, such as major aquariums, may earn even higher salaries.

It’s worth noting that these ranges can vary depending on the location, facility, and experience. Some other factors that may affect an aquarist’s salary include the cost of living in the area where the facility is located, the facility’s budget and funding, and the availability of jobs in the area. Additionally, non-profit facilities may not have similar salary ranges as for-profit facilities.

Benefits such as insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and educational opportunities may also be factored in. It is always recommended to check with the facility for more accurate and current information regarding salary and benefits.

Aquarist Work Environment

The work environment for an aquarist can vary. Aquarists may work in the following:

  • Public aquariums: These large facilities are open to the public and typically feature a wide range of aquatic animals, from fish and reptiles to marine mammals. Aquarists working in public aquariums may be responsible for maintaining exhibits, caring for the animals, and interacting with visitors.
  • Marine parks: These facilities often focus similarly to public aquariums but may also feature live animal shows and other attractions. Aquarists working in marine parks may have similar responsibilities to those working in aquariums but may also be involved in training animals for shows and other performances.
  • Research facilities: These facilities typically focus on conducting scientific research on aquatic animals and their environments. Aquarists working in research facilities may be involved in the collection and analysis of data, as well as the care and maintenance of the animals used in research studies.
  • Zoo: Some zoos may have aquatic animal exhibits, and aquarists working in a zoo may be part of the animal care team.
  • Private Facilities: Some aquarists may work in privately-owned facilities, such as pet shops or marine supply stores.

The work environment for an aquarist can be physically demanding and involves a lot of manual labor, such as cleaning tanks and equipment, lifting heavy items, and working in potentially wet and humid conditions. Aquarists may also work in an environment with loud noise and strong odors. They may be required to work on their feet for long periods of time and be able to lift heavy equipment or feed large animals.

Aquarists may also be required to work irregular hours, including evenings, weekends, and holidays, as many facilities are open seven days a week. But, some other facilities may have regular working hours. Additionally, aquarists often work in a team and may be required to interact with visitors and other staff members, so effective communication skills are essential.

Aquarist Trends

The aquarist market constantly evolves and changes, with new trends emerging each year.

One of the biggest trends in the market of aquarists is the rise of planted aquariums. Planted aquariums allow for a more natural and eco-friendly environment for fish while also providing benefits such as improved water quality and reduced algae growth. Many aquarists are also adopting more sustainable practices, such as using LED lighting and energy-efficient equipment, to reduce their environmental impact.

Another trend is the increasing popularity of nano aquariums. These small aquariums, typically 1 to 10 gallons, are perfect for small spaces and beginners. They require less maintenance, are cost-effective, and allow for unique and creative designs.

Overall, the market for aquarists is diverse and constantly evolving.

How to Become an Aquarist

Becoming an aquarist typically involves gaining knowledge and experience in the field of aquatic biology and aquarium management. Here are a few steps you can take to become an aquarist:

  • Get educated: A good place to start is by pursuing a degree in aquatic biology, marine biology, or a related field. This will give you a solid foundation in the science of aquatic ecosystems and the organisms that inhabit them.
  • Gain experience: After a solid education, gaining hands-on experience working with aquatic organisms and managing aquariums is important. You can do this by working at an aquarium, fish store, or water park or by volunteering at a research facility or non-profit organization.
  • Develop specialized skills: Depending on the type of aquarist you want to be, you may need to develop specialized skills such as breeding or raising specific types of fish or invertebrates, coral propagation, aquascaping, water chemistry, etc.
  • Get certified: Professional certifications are available through organizations such as the World Aquatic Health Conference (WAHC) or the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) that can demonstrate your knowledge and skills in the field.
  • Networking: Building professional relationships with other aquarists and industry professionals is important for learning about job opportunities and staying current with the latest trends and developments in the field.
  • Keep learning: Aquatic science and technology are constantly evolving, so it is important to stay current with the latest research and developments in the field through attending conferences, workshops, and reading industry publications.

While becoming an aquarist can take time, effort, and dedication, it is a very rewarding and fascinating field. The experiences and knowledge you gain can be applied to many different careers, such as in aquariums, zoos, research labs, water parks, conservation projects, or even as a hobby.

Aquarist Advancement Prospects

The career prospects for aquarists can vary depending on the type of employer and location. In general, aquarists who have experience and advanced education in the field may have better advancement opportunities.

Aquarists who work in public aquariums or zoos may have the opportunity to advance to supervisory or management positions. These positions may include roles such as head aquarist or curator. In order to be considered for these types of positions, aquarists typically need several years of experience working in the field and may also need to have advanced degrees in a relevant field such as biology, marine science, or zoology.

Aquarists who work in research or academia may have the opportunity to advance to positions such as research scientists or professors. They would conduct independent research in these roles and publish their findings in scientific journals. Aquarists typically need to have a Ph.D. and a strong research background to be considered for these positions.

Those working in private aquatics may be able to move into more consultative roles and specialist positions, such as sales and design positions in the aquarium and pond building industries and project management positions.

In general, the opportunities for advancement in the field of aquarist will be more limited in smaller organizations, where there may be fewer positions available. Additionally, it is important to note that this field can be competitive, and the demand for aquarists largely depends on the region and economy.

Overall, the key to advancement in the field of aquarists is to gain experience, education, and skills in the field and to stay informed about the latest developments and advancements in the field.

Aquarist Job Description Example

Here is an example of a job description for an aquarist:

Job Title: Aquarist

Job Description:

The aquarist is responsible for the care and maintenance of the animals and habitats in the aquarium. This includes feeding the animals, performing water quality tests, monitoring the animals for signs of illness or distress, and cleaning and maintaining the habitats. The aquarist will also be responsible for conducting research and monitoring the health of the animals and the overall ecosystem of the aquarium.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Feeding and caring for the animals in the aquarium, including fish, invertebrates, and reptiles
  • Monitoring and testing water quality, including pH, temperature, and salinity
  • Cleaning and maintaining the habitats, including aquariums, tanks, and pools
  • Conducting research on the animals and their behaviors
  • Monitoring the health of the animals and identifying any signs of illness or distress
  • Collaborating with other staff members to develop and implement new exhibits and programs
  • Assisting with public education and outreach, including giving presentations and tours


  • Bachelor’s degree in biology, marine science, or a related field
  • 1-2 years of experience working with aquatic animals in a professional setting
  • Strong knowledge of aquatic animal biology and behavior
  • Experience with water quality testing and maintenance
  • Strong organizational and communication skills
  • Ability to work well in a team environment
  • Must be able to stand for long periods of time and be able to lift up to 50 pounds.

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