Parameter estimation is an important part of numerical modeling and often required when a coupled physical–biogeochemical ocean model is first deployed. However, 3-dimensional ocean model simulations are computationally expensive and models typically contain upwards of 10 parameters suitable for estimation. Hence, manual parameter tuning can be lengthy and cumbersome. Here, we present four easy to implement and flexible parameter estimation techniques and apply them to two 3-dimensional biogeochemical models of different complexities. Based on a Monte Carlo experiment, we first develop a cost function measuring the model-observation misfit based on multiple data types. The parameter estimation techniques are then applied and yield a substantial cost reduction over ∼ 100 simulations. Based on the outcome of multiple replicate experiments, they perform on average better than random, uninformed parameter search but performance declines when more than 40 parameters are estimated together. Our results emphasize the complex cost function structure for biogeochemical parameters and highlight dependencies between different parameters as well as different cost function formulations.