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!
SEA Semester: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean
Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions
This semester at sea study abroad program 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 » St. Croix, USVI
Destinations: San Juan › St. John › St. Martin › Montserrat › Dominica › Bequia › Grenada › St. Croix
Port stops subject to change
When?January 4 - March 25, 2021
Jan. 4 - Feb. 11: On shore in Woods Hole
Feb. 16 - March 25: At sea
- Analyze cultural connections to the environment
- Compare and contrast multiple colonial legacies
- Conduct marine mammal acoustic research during the peak of whale breeding season
- Assess the impact of tourism on off-the-beaten-path communities
Who Should Apply?
This semester at sea 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.
- Coral reef survey methods
- Field journal techniques
- Ocean soundscape & noise pollution analysis
- Document and field research methodologies
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.
At the beginning of every SEA Semester program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.
During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.
Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!
Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom or off on a field trip for the afternoon. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.
While the coursework on shore will require much of your attention, there’s always time to explore the surrounding area. Take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or the bus Boston, just 1.5 hours away. There are miles of bike paths and beaches within easy reach of the SEA campus, and we encourage students to stay healthy and active ahead of joining the ship.
The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.
While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.
As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”
The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.
Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.
When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.
"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major
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."
SEA Semester: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean carries 17 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Complete an application form
Apply online. (Note: the application fee is waived for students from affiliated institutions. Contact your Admissions Counselor for the code!)
Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)
List your full name on each. Submit via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 800-977-8516.
- Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to SEA Semester and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will the SEA Semester program to which you're applying (The Global Ocean, Oceans & Climate, etc.) complement your education? Be sure to address both questions.
- Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent course, and on a topic applicable to your SEA Semester program of interest (science, history, environmental studies, literature, etc.). Please include your name and the context of the sample (course title and brief description of the assignment). Poetry or college entrance essays may be submitted only as a secondary sample.
Request and submit transcripts
Official college transcripts are required for all applicants. E-transcripts must be emailed to email@example.com. Hard copies must remain sealed and be sent directly from your institution to:
SEA Office of AdmissionsHigh school transcripts are required for students who have not yet completed two years of college. They may be unofficial and submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to 800-977-8516.
P.O. Box 6
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Submit two (2) undergraduate academic references
The online application will provide a link to email the reference form to your professors directly. If you require a PDF version, please click here.
Both should be from undergraduate level instructors; at least one should be from an instructor (i.e. professor, academic advisor) who has taught you within the past year. We also welcome additional references (i.e. coach, academic, personal, etc.). Letters of reference will only be accepted as supplemental to the online form.
Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
Interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person, depending on the Counselor’s schedule. Topics of conversation may include life at your college/university, academic and extracurricular interests, transition from high school to college, your expectations for life at SEA, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about SEA.
Submit the Student Participation Approval Form to the appropriate authority (study abroad office or academic advisor) on your campus
This form is accessible through our online system and ensures that you go through the appropriate channels at your school for off-campus study approval (if applicable) and credit transfer. If you're not sure who to contact on your campus, ask your SEA Admissions Counselor.
Apply for a Passport: Please note that all SEA Semester students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.
Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, download a financial aid application (pdf) and submit it with your application for admission.