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Marine Biodiversity & Conservation

SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation

Be part of a professional effort to protect the Sargasso Sea... Participate in real-time, real-world research related to biodiversity and conservation efforts in this challenging research semester. Use cutting-edge technology to collect and analyze data while sailing north to bring the SSV Corwith Cramer back home to Woods Hole. Close out your semester with a formal symposium, presenting your research to a panel of scientific and policy experts to fill in the gaps of scientific knowledge related to the Sargasso Sea: an unbelievable networking opportunity.

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Overview: Spring 2018 | Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


An integrated semester that applies modern biodiversity research to place-based resource management in the coastal and open ocean. Students will conduct authentic biodiversity and policy research that contributes directly to the international effort to conserve the Sargasso Sea. They will then present their research findings and policy recommendations to a panel of invited experts as part of a formal, professional symposium.


Cruise Track: Nassau, Bahamas » New York City
Destinations: Nassau > Bermuda (7-day stop) > New York City
Port stops subject to change.


March 19 – June 16, 2018

March 19 – April 13: On shore in Woods Hole
April 18 – May 24: At sea
May 29 – June 16: On shore in Woods Hole

Note: Although this program begins in March, it is designed to take the place of a full spring term on your home campus. Many semester students take advantage of the opportunity to conduct an internship or travel between the end of their fall semester and the start of this program.

Program Highlights

  • Develop skills in molecular ecology including DNA extraction and sequencing
  • Present science and policy research at a final professional symposium
  • Apply natural resource economics to help inform conservation efforts
  • Propose marine spatial planning options

Who Should Apply?

This semester attracts upper-level science students interested in complementing marine science research with the wisdom, concepts, and skills necessary to operate effectively within the world of public policy.

Prerequisites: A minimum of three lab science courses (at least one at the 300-level) or permission from the SEA faculty. Not sure if you qualify? Contact your Admissions Counselor.

Program Description

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Oceans are the new frontier of conservation. Scientists estimate that oceans contain more than one million species and report that less than one-quarter of these have been identified. Marine biodiversity has the potential to transform medicine, industry, environmental remediation, and energy production, but is threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, fishing, and climate change. In recognition, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan (2011-2020) calls for 10% of ocean area to be protected by 2020. Currently, less than 3% is protected. While much of the protected area is restricted to national waters – within 200 miles of the coast – more than half of the ocean area lies beyond national jurisdiction. This bias reflects the complexity of weaving together appropriate protection measures for the high seas from the existing international regulatory framework.

The Sargasso Sea ecosystem, at the center of the North Atlantic gyre, has been identified as an area of particular importance for conservation of marine biodiversity. In addition to hosting a variety of endemic species, the Sargasso Sea ecosystem supports a number of endangered or threatened migratory species, including fish, turtles, birds and cetaceans. In March 2014, the Hamilton Declaration, an agreement to establish and actively participate in the Sargasso Sea Commission to forward conservation of the Sargasso Sea region, was signed by Bermuda, the United States, and other supporting nations. Original research conducted by students during this project-based applied science and policy semester program directly contributes to this ongoing international effort.

On Shore I - Preparation in Woods Hole
Students will build a conceptual framework in marine ecology, governance and conservation while honing practical skills. Place-based conservation planning begins understanding how to identify and value important "natural capital" and "ecosystem services" that link humans to the ocean environment. Training in morphological, molecular and statistical techniques for measuring biodiversity as well as practical seamanship will prepare students for the research cruise.

At Sea in the Sargasso
The Nassau, Bahamas to New York, NY research cruise allows for first-hand exploration of this abstract open ocean environment. In addition to measuring biodiversity for their research projects, students will collect archive samples for the global marine biodiversity assessment effort. A weeklong port stop in Bermuda also provides essential context and access for conservation policy research.

On Shore II - Analysis & Symposium in Woods Hole
Students will complete scientific data analysis and synthesis of conservation approaches. The program concludes with a capstone experience. Students will share their scientific research and conservation strategies for the Sargasso Sea high seas region with 10-12 experts in national and international marine conservation science and policy during a one-day professional Sargasso Sea Symposium convened on the SEA campus (see below for past participants).

Beyond building content knowledge and practical skills in conservation science and policy, a critical goal of this program is to introduce undergraduates to the breadth of career paths available in ocean stewardship, from research science to natural resource economics and policy to public outreach. Students connect directly with a wide array of conservation professionals through guest lectures at SEA, visits to research facilities and institutions in Cape Cod, Bermuda and New York City, and through participation in the Symposium. These encounters provide opportunities for students to begin to form professional relationships with potential internship mentors, graduate school advisors, employers, and colleagues.

Special Program Features

Students will acquire practical science and policy research skills, including:

  • Ecological statistics
  • Conservation planning
  • Microscopy and morphological taxonomy
  • DNA extraction
  • PCR
  • Fingerprinting [ARISA, RFLP]
  • Phylogenetic probes [Fluorescence In-Situ Hybridization; FISH]
  • Sequencing
  • Natural resource economics
  • Marine Spatial Planning
  • Stakeholder research

Overview: Program Video

Past Symposium Highlights

2017 Student Press Releases & Closing Statement

2015 Student Presentations: “A Marine Management Proposal for the Sargasso Sea” 

The 20 advanced undergraduate students of the Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program completed a high seas management proposal for the Sargasso Sea, a North Atlantic region increasingly recognized for its strong ecological importance and economic impact. The students’ recommendations are based on three months of work, involving science and policy research, a five-week research cruise through the Sargasso Sea, and interactions with stakeholders, science experts, and policy experts.

Biodiversity Research Posters

Past Invited Sargasso Sea Symposium Participants:

Tundi Agardy, Forest Trends Association (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) View 2015 Talk | View 2013 Talk
Vera Agostini, The Nature Conservancy (2014) View 2014 Talk
Linda Amaral-Zettler, Marine Biological Laboratory/Brown University (2012, 2013, 2014)
Adam Baske, Pew Environmental Group (2012)
Leo Blanco-Bercial, University of Connecticut (2014)
Ann Bucklin, University of Connecticut (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
Billy Causey, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (2015) View 2015 Talk
Tracy Dalton, University of Rhode Island (2015)  
Dan Distel, Ocean Genome Legacy Foundation/Northeastern University (2012, 2015)
Sylvia Earle, Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue (2014) View 2014 Talk
David Freestone, Sargasso Sea Alliance (2012, 2014) View 2014 Talk
Steve Gephard, CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (2013)
Kristina Gjerde, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme (2014)
Annette Govindarajan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2013, 2014, 2015)
John Hanning*, Archimedes Aerospace (2014, 2015) View 2014 Talk
Meaghan Jeans*, New England Aquarium (2014, 2015)
Brenda Jensen, Hawaii Pacific University (2013) View 2013 Talk
Jack Kittinger, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, Conservation International (2013)
Joel Llopiz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2015) 
Rod Mather, University of Rhode Island (2013)
Caleb McClennen*, Wildlife Conservation Society (2012, 2013, 2014)
Chris McGuire*, The Nature Conservancy (2013, 2014, 2015)
Clare Morall, St. George’s University, Grenada (2012)
Erik Olsen, Institute of Marine Research, Norway/Guest Investigator Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2014)
Steve Olsen, University of Rhode Island (2013)
Robbie Smith, Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo (2013, 2015) View 2015 Talk | View 2013 Talk
Paul Snelgrove, Memorial University (2012)
Andrew Solow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2012)
Heather Tausig, New England Aquarium (2012)
Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2012, 2015) View 2015 Talk
Ole Varmer, NOAA Office of the General Counsel (2012)
Jaqueline Webb, University of Rhode Island (2015) 

*Denotes SEA Semester alumni

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Advanced Ocean Policy Research (400-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Junior standing or consent of instructor.  
Advanced policy research focusing on a topic of current importance (may include fisheries, biodiversity, marine spatial planning, and cultural heritage). Emphasis on theoretical concepts, research methods, and communication skills. Requires critical review paper, original research, final report and presentation.

Advanced Topics in Biological Oceanography (400-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
In-depth treatment of a single topic in biological oceanography.  Extensive review of classical and contemporary literature.  Introduction and practice of current laboratory techniques.  Oral presentation and written research proposal required.  Topics may include marine plankton ecology, marine biodiversity, and satellite oceanography.

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.

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.

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.


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"My time at sea was the best educational experience I've had since entering college. I collected water and the accompanying environmental data which I would then use to analyze microbial genetic diversity. Taking these precious samples from the collection and filtration stage through DNA extraction and amplification and more left me entirely invested in their story. SEA is a truly unique experience for undergraduates to cross over major oceanographic features, understanding them in a way that many specialists in related fields do not."

Kate Hyder
Stanford University