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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 2018 | Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application deadline: Rolling 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: San Juan, Puerto Rico » Key West, FL
Destinations: Puerto Rico › St. John › Dominican Republic › Bahamas › Grand Cayman › Jamaica › Key West
Port stops subject to change.


January 2 – March 23, 2018

Jan. 2 – Feb. 9: On shore in Woods Hole
Feb. 13 – March 23: At sea

Program Highlights

  • Analyze cultural connections to the environment
  • Compare and contrast multiple colonial legacies
  • Conduct marine mammal acoustic research during the peak of whale breeding season
  • Visit a variety of off-the-beaten-path islands

Who Should Apply?

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

Program Description

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Few places on Earth can compare with the natural beauty and cultural diversity of the Caribbean Islands, making the region a favored tourist destination for much of the developed world. However, moving beyond the glossy veneer of the pristine beaches, reefs, and resorts highlighted in tourist brochures, students in this program will experience the multiple and varied sides of the Caribbean—a blend of African, colonial European, and indigenous culture creating a unique economic, political, and social heritage. The Caribbean has experienced one of the greatest environmental and human transformations of all time. The conquest of indigenous cultures, exploitation of natural resources, and development of slave plantation systems have left a very visible legacy, yet each island embodies its own resilient and hopeful community striving toward responsible economic growth, social justice, and sustainable use of valued natural resources.

Over the course of this comparative semester, students will initially be introduced to the Caribbean through first-hand historical accounts ranging from travel journals and illustrations to navigational charts and ships’ logbooks. At sea, they will have opportunities to confer with local experts and citizens, participate in collaborative coral reef surveys, and engage in their own field-based observations during several multi-day port stops at selected islands. Each stop is planned to allow students to delve deeper into the unique cultural and physical environments and 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, and gender in postcolonial societies. Students will document and reflect upon their individual journeys in field journals complete with gesture drawings, watercolor, photography, and narratives.

Connect the dots...trace the lasting effects of past human impacts on the present Caribbean environment beginning with the great European voyages of exploration. Sail in the wake of Christopher Columbus on this transatlantic voyage from the Canary Islands to Grenada. Examine 500 years of environmental and cultural change while shaping your understanding of the diverse histories and legacies of colonialism that remain visible in today’s Caribbean.

Ocean Soundscapes

Whales: Silver Bank, DR (Spring 2017)

Voyage Map

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Dolphins & Whales: Silver Bank, DR (Spring 2017)

Voyage Map

Click spectrogram to enlarge.

SEA Semester welcomed Dr. Heather Heenehan, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Science Center, during a recent Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean voyage. Dr. Heenehan is part of the Caribbean Humpback Acoustic Monitoring Program (CHAMP). The basic aim of CHAMP is to collaborate with managers, researchers, NGO's, sanctuaries, government officials, and others in the Caribbean to gain a better understanding of the humpback whales that migrate to the area and help establish a robust acoustic monitoring program for the whales in this region. 

Students were actively engaged in this research. They deployed the hydrophone, made the recordings, analyzed those recordings using industry standard sound analysis software (Raven Lite 2.0), and ultimately explored the ocean soundscape throughout the Caribbean. Students worked alongside Dr. Heenehan and a lucky few did their oceanography project on whale song and ocean soundscapes.

The recordings and their matching spectrograms were created during a stop at the Humpback Whale Sanctuary of Silver Bank and Samana Bay, Dominican Republic, using the same software that is available to students on board the Corwith Cramer. The timing of this program's cruise track coincides with peak breeding season at Silver Bank, with the opportunity to witness incredible whale song and abundant surface displays. For this reason, the NOAA Passive Acoustics Lab in Woods Hole has sent a scientist on this voyage for the past several years. Dr. Heenehan's  description of this special day:

"Absolutely nothing could compare or prepare us for what Silver Bank had in store for us yesterday. I put on the headphones as I always do to check our settings and make any adjustments. I was immediately met by the best sound I've probably ever heard in my life. I let a few people listen with headphones, watching their eyes light up and big smiles spread across their faces as someone retrieved a speaker. This was too good not to share with the whole ship. We quickly replaced the headphones and until sunset we all listened to the amazing underwater world of Silver Bank.

Our day on Silver Bank could not have been better. From rainblows (when a whale surfaces, breathes, and produces a blow that catches the light perfectly and makes a rainbow), to watching a mom and calf surface within a boat's length of us, and fluke dives into the sunset. I think everyone seemed to grasp just how special this day was and just how lucky we were to be there in that moment."

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.


Photo Gallery

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