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Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

SEA Semester: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

Connect the dots...Trace the lasting effects of past human impacts on the present. You will shape your understanding of the diverse Caribbean region in this place-based and comparative environmental studies semester. Examine 500 years of ecological change from the first explorers to today’s environmental challenges while visiting off-the-beaten-path ports and honing your coastal navigation skills!

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Overview: Winter/Spring 2016 | Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Contact Admissions


This semester will introduce students to the Caribbean region through first-hand accounts of island life followed by their own field-based observations at sea. Students will examine the legacies of colonization alongside ongoing modern issues of environmental change and sustainability while visiting multiple ports of call.


Cruise Track: St. Croix to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic
Destinations: St. Croix > St. John > San Juan > Samana > Santiago de Cuba > Port Antonio > Boca Chica

Port stops subject to change.


January 4 - March 25, 2016

Jan. 4 - Feb. 11: On shore in Woods Hole
Feb. 15 - March 25: At sea

Who Should Apply?

This change and adaptation-focused semester is appropriate for students in any major who wish to understand the legacies of colonization alongside the modern issues of climate change and sustainability in small nations and territories.

Program Description

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Few places on Earth can compete with the natural beauty and rich, cultural diversity of the Caribbean Islands; and yet the Caribbean of today bears little resemblance to the islands encountered by Christopher Columbus over 500 years ago. Known now as a vacation destination, what is lost on many visitors is the complex and often devastating history of exploitation shared among all Caribbean Islands. That fateful day of ‘discovery’ and the waves of European expansion and colonization that followed represent one of the greatest environmental and human transformations of all time. The conquest of indigenous cultures, the exploitation of natural resources, and the development of slave plantation systems have left a legacy still visible today in the environment and identity of each island.

Tourists are encouraged to view the Caribbean as an unvaried and homogenous experience. In reality, each island, despite being stymied by centuries of colonial rule, encapsulates a unique community striving toward responsible economic growth, social justice and sustainable use of valued natural resources. 

Over the course of this semester, students will be introduced to the Caribbean through first-hand accounts of island life and their own field-based observations of its natural resources, diverse ecosystems, and environmental and cultural resiliency. Exploration and examination of Caribbean history, culture and land/seascape on shore in Woods Hole will be furthered at sea by multi-day port stops at selected islands during the sea component. Students will confer with local experts whose insights will allow them to deepen their knowledge of issues of sustainability in the Caribbean. Past student research projects have explored topics including fisheries management, coral reef biodiversity, ecotourism, cruise ship pollution, gender in postcolonial societies, and regional cooperation initiatives.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean carries 17 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

Marine Environmental History (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Employ methods and sources of historians and social scientists. Examine the role of human societies in coastal and open ocean environmental change. Issues include resource conservation, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

Maritime History & Culture (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Explore impacts of European maritime ventures on the societies they contacted in the Atlantic or Pacific, with focus on the resulting social, political, economic, and cultural changes. Investigate responses documented in the post-Colonial literature of indigenous people.

Maritime Studies (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Relationship between humans and the sea. History, literature and art of our maritime heritage. Ships as agents of contact change. Political and economic challenges of contemporary marine affairs. Destination-specific focus.

Nautical Science (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.

Oceanography (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Explore how interconnected ocean characteristics (bathymetry, seawater chemistry, biological diversity) and processes (plate tectonics, surface and deep-water circulation, biological production) shape global patterns across multiple scales. Discuss destination-specific environmental issues and hot topics in marine research.


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Video: Program Overview

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"My humanities research focused on the Maroons of Jamaica. After conducting my research onshore, I was able to meet with the very community I had been writing about. Never before had I felt such an honest connection to my academics."

Giles Holt
Rhode Island School of Design
Liberal Arts Major