Underwater aquarist

Professional context

With the construction in the early 1990s of the first public aquarium in Italy with ocean tanks, a new professional figure began to be defined that was closely related to the maintenance, handling, study and reproduction of aquatic animal and plant organisms and their management in a controlled environment. This professional figure is generically called Aquarist. 

The Aquarist works in or for public and private aquariums and is responsible for the management, maintenance of aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, research in the field of marine biology and ecology, fisheries, reproduction, physiology, ethology and pathology of aquatic resources in controlled environment and in situ. Scuba diving is a fundamental task for this profession. Underwater modes of work can be an important part of the job and mostly feature confined spaces and limited operational depths, but some also take place in open water.

In England already since 1997, routine diving operations in aquariums fall under the Scientific and Archeological Diving Project Code of Practice where scientific diving includes all activities carried out in support of scientific, educational and popular research activities. In Italy there is no specific legislation regulating this activity. Therefore, each aquarium and marine park has an internal regulation and protocol that defines and regulates diving activities.

Diving inside tanks is characterized by a number of unique factors that are difficult to find in open water diving. The aquarist provides for the maintenance of optimal environmental parameters for the species housed, feeds the animals and observes and monitors all their behaviors and interactions, manages technical facilities, makes movements, administers treatments, monitors animals during quarantine, develops behavioral enrichment techniques, interacts with the animals, collects and processes data, samples and captures both in the natural environment and in the tank, participates in research projects, etc. Each of these tasks can be done completely or partially underwater and involves the use of various tools such as: siphons, stretchers, nets, suction cups, brushes, sticks, tongs, measuring instruments, lifting flasks, photographic equipment, and video cameras.


Aquarists engaged in diving with large animals

Food and therapy administration

Educational paths

At present, there are no professional training schools or university courses in Italy aimed specifically at the Aquarist profession. Personnel selected on the basis of the required tasks and profiles and who have not already gained adequate experience in another facility are then trained directly within the aquarium or water park concerned. The training may begin with an internship for the purpose of graduation and be followed by an internship or begin directly with the 6-month extracurricular internship. Undergraduates and trainees come from the faculties of Marine Biology, Natural Sciences, Environmental Sciences and the like. Earning a bachelor's degree, although a highly relevant and relevant title, may not be an impediment to entering this profession. Thus, depending on the degree of educational training and experience in the professional career there are different levels of classification with different functions and responsibilities defined according to the type of national contract applied. The highest levels are filled by personnel with degrees in biological sciences, natural sciences, environmental sciences or equivalent, who are responsible, among others, for setting standards, work and organizational procedures for staff so that these guidelines are followed and adhered to.Appropriate diving certification is required for diving activity, and depending on the level of certification, different tasks may be performed.All divers undergo medical examinations and checks that verify and certify their fitness annually.As with all the activities carried out by the Aquarist, diving involves specific practical training within the facility related to the various types of tanks, animals and environments where he or she will have to work, and the specific activities that can be carried out in open water. 

The training course can therefore involve learning periods of varying lengths and can be carried out in both domestic and foreign facilities and is generally supported by specific training materials and/or manuals containing company procedures.

As the number of aquariums and marine parks grows, there is an increasing need to define and frame this professionalism and its training process through professional and specialized courses at different levels, including minimum standards of aquatics and diving skills and safety procedures.

Employment opportunities

The employment outlet for this highly specialized profession is closely linked to facilities such as public or private aquariums, marine parks or similar. Currently there is no specific contract form so national contract forms such as the trade, tertiary or tourism contract are generally used, but these hardly reflect the needs of this sector. Diving is generally an integral part of this occupation.

Article from:

Castellano L. (2020) L'acquarista subacqueo. Identikit professionali degli Operatori Scientifici Subacquei. La collana del faro, Il Pianeta Azzurro, 2/2020: 4-5.

The author:


Laura Castellano

Marine Biologist. Curator Mediterranean Sector, Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds of the Genoa Aquarium. A diver since 1989, she has been working in the aquarium field since 1993 and collaborates with several national and international research institutions for research and conservation of aquatic organisms. Member of the scientific and technical committee of AIOSS.