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Sea Education Association Research

Research at SEA

Undergraduate research is a cornerstone of SEA Semester, with an emphasis on field-based study in marine and social sciences. SEA faculty and staff are active in their respective fields through grant-funded research projects, participation in professional conferences and publication in scholarly journals.

Faculty encourage SEA Semester students to contribute new aspects to ongoing research or to develop their own avenues of inquiry, as they guide students through the entire research process from defining the scope of study to final presentation of their work. Many students continue their research upon return to their home institutions, using the field data collected at SEA as the basis of capstone or senior thesis projects. Others remain involved in the research they contributed to during their time at SEA, and are subsequently invited as co-authors on presentations and publications resulting from their work. 

We invite you to explore the major avenues of research conducted by SEA Semester students and SEA faculty and staff.


Recent SEA Research in the News

Below are highlights from recent SEA research. To view all of our research-related news, click here.

New Study: Far More Floating Plastics in Ocean Than Thought

Posted on: January 07, 2016
By: Kara Lavender Law, SEA Semester Research Professor of Oceanography
SEA Semester

Dr. Kara Lavender Law, a SEA Semester research professor of oceanography, co-authored a new study entitled, “A Global Inventory of Small Floating Plastic Debris,” published with international colleagues on December 8, 2015 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters. This study finds larger quantities of tiny plastic bits floating in the world’s oceans than previously estimated. But even this amount accounts for only 1% of plastic that likely enters the ocean annually, and scientists are still working to understand where the rest of it ends up.

The majority of data for this study came from plastic samples collected and analyzed during decades of SEA Semester voyages. Here, Kara discusses what these findings mean for future scientific research directions and anyone trying to make sense of the massive amounts of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year.

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New Study: Microbes on Marine Plastic Debris Differ by Ocean

Posted on: December 10, 2015
By: Anne Broache,
SEA Semester

Microplastics—tiny fragments less than 5 millimeters in size—are now the most abundant form of ocean debris, prompting growing concerns from the public about the array of potential impacts on marine ecosystems. For SEA Semester faculty and students, one key line of research is better understanding the “Plastisphere,” the communities that colonize and thrive on these floating plastic islands.

A newly published scientific paper co-authored by SEA Semester Professor of Oceanography Dr. Erik Zettler reports an important finding: The make-up of the Plastisphere microbial communities appears to differ significantly on a global ocean basis. Notably, their analysis revealed genetic “signatures” that distinguish microbial communities found on plastic floating in Atlantic Ocean gyre environments from those found in the Pacific Ocean.

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SEA Research Offers New Insight on Caribbean Seaweed Invasion

Posted on: November 18, 2015
By: Anne Broache,
SEA Semester

Massive quantities of Sargassum, a distinctive brown seaweed, have flooded Caribbean shores in recent years, setting off local concerns about economic impacts on fishing and tourism. The country of Trinidad has even declared these so-called inundation events to be a natural disaster. But little is understood about the ecological implications of Sargassum invasions or how they should be managed. New research published by Sea Education Association provides first-hand observations in support of these questions.

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SEA Plastics Research Represented at Fall International Meetings

Posted on: October 28, 2015
By: Anne Broache,
SEA Semester

Sea Education Association’s unique, longstanding research on marine plastic debris continues to attract international interest in collaboration with our faculty.

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SEA Plastics Research Featured on Radio-Canada TV Show

Posted on: October 19, 2015
SEA Semester

SEA Semester® in the News:
French-Canadian reporter Michel Rochon of ICI Radio-Canada interviewed Drs. Kara Lavender Law and Erik Zettler and visited the SSV Corwith Cramer in Woods Hole this June for a story about ocean plastics pollution and the “Plastisphere,” the millions of tiny organisms that colonize these plastic bits. On Sunday, October 18, 2015, the science television program Découverte aired its broadcast featuring this documentary.

Read the story (in French) and view the video here.