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Caribbean Reef Expedition

SEA Semester: Caribbean Reef Expedition

Take a multi-pronged approach to effective reef conservation… Chronicle the state of coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean in response to human impacts. Develop and refine snorkel-based reef survey techniques while documenting the effects of environmental change. Assess the effectiveness of Caribbean reef management strategies and contribute to local conservation policy efforts.

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Overview: Fall 2018 | Caribbean

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


An investigative science and policy semester at sea examining the impacts of human actions on Caribbean coral reef ecosystems and the effectiveness of existing reef management strategies.


Cruise Track: Grenada » St. Croix, USVI
Destinations: Grenada › Tobago Cays › Montserrat › Barbuda › St. Croix, USVI
Port stops subject to change


October 2 - December 23, 2018

Oct. 2 - Nov. 9: On shore in Woods Hole
Nov. 15 - Nov. 27: On shore in Grenada
Nov. 27 - Dec. 23: At sea

Program Highlights

  • Develop and refine snorkel-based reef survey techniques
  • Conduct additional on-site research at a field station in Grenada
  • Contribute to marine conservation policy efforts
  • Assess effectiveness of reef management strategies

Who Should Apply?

This hands-on coral reef studies program is ideal for students with an interest in conservation policy and/or marine ecosystems. Students will approach solutions to effective reef management in the context of history, policy, and science. We welcome students of all majors to apply.

Program Description

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Throughout human history, coral reefs and their intricately linked ecosystems have protected islands from eroding and provided food resources for growing human populations. Coral reefs attract tourists and drive economic development, and force us to take pause and marvel at their natural beauty and abundance. A healthy reef is not only part of a healthy ocean but also a thriving, successful island community. Nowhere is this more true than in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, coral reefs face many threats related to human excess. Overfishing, reduced water quality, physical disturbance, invasive species, and rising temperatures and lower pH due to climate change all threaten the health of reef ecosystems, and reduce their ability to provide the important ecological services that the Caribbean people have come to rely upon.

Effective solutions to the management of coral reefs requires an understanding of the historical context underpinning the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the Caribbean today alongside the scientific foundation of how the oceans and climate interact and leadership skills enabling decisive, effective action and engagement. During this semester at sea, students will examine how a variety of local and international organizations, communities, and businesses have joined together to protect, conserve, and sustainably manage coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Beginning on shore in Woods Hole, you will develop the background knowledge to understand history, science, leadership, and policy strategies. You'll then spend two weeks on site in Grenada, affording you the opportunity to develop and refine your reef survey techniques, and collect your first observations for your comparative reef project.

Finally, during four weeks aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer at sea, you'll learn how to crew a tall ship and hone your leadership skills, all while surveying the ocean environment. You'll visit several Caribbean islands and partner with local, academic, and governmental agencies to compare their approaches to coral reef management. Continuation of your coral reef surveys will allow you to assess the effectiveness of different approaches to coral reef management.

Life on Shore

Life at Sea

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Caribbean Reef Expedition carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

Leadership in a Dynamic Environment (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Be an effective leader while leveraging the individual strengths of a team. Use leadership theory and case studies to understand how decisions affect outcomes. Participate as an active member of a ship’s crew, progressively assuming full leadership roles.

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.

Ocean Science & Public Policy (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Culture, history, political systems and science can shape ocean policy. Practice current strategies to build, analyze, and communicate about diverse policy issues. Examine the power, use and limitations of science and the scientist's voice in determining ocean policy.

The Ocean & Global Change (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.

Your Choice of Research Courses:

Directed Oceanographic Research (300-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Design and conduct original oceanographic research. Collect data and analyze samples. Compile results in peer-reviewed manuscript format and share during oral or poster presentation session. Emphasis on development of research skills and written/oral communication abilities.

-- OR --

Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Introduction to oceanographic research. Design a collaborative, hypothesis-driven project following the scientific process. Collect original data. Conduct analysis and interpretation, then prepare a written report and oral presentation.


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"In a world where our senses are so often dulled by hectic schedules and computer screens, life on board has taught us to re-tune our eyes and ears to the world around us. Never has our dependence on and connection to the natural world been so manifest than it is now, when our every thought and action is driven by the sea and wind around us." 

Sarah Hamilton
Colorado College
Biology Major