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Study Abroad at Sea

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.

Unparalleled Résumé-Building Opportunities

MBC Alumni Present at the United Nations' Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development Meeting

SEA Collaborating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to Study Ocean's Twilight Zone

Spring 2020 | Caribbean

Voyage Map

Click map to enlarge.

Application deadline: Rolling Admissions - Space Available!


An integrated semester at sea program 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: St. Croix » New York City
Destinations: St. Croix > Bermuda (7-day stop) > New York City
Port stops subject to change.


March 23 – June 13, 2020

March 23 – April 17: Shore I in Woods Hole
April 21 – May 21: At sea
May 21 – June 13: Shore II in Woods Hole

Note: This program is designed to take the place of a full spring term on your home campus. While it's an especially good fit for trimester/quarter students, 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
• Present at a culminating professional symposium
• Use scientific data to inform conservation efforts
• Explore real-world interactions between science, policy, conservation, and law

Who Should Apply?

This semester attracts upper-level science students interested in complementing marine science research with the wisdom, concepts and skills necessary to effectively operate within the world of public policy. To be eligible, students must have taken at least three lab science courses (one at 300-level or higher) or received permission from SEA faculty.

Program Description

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Skills Gained

  • DNA extraction, sequencing, and molecular analysis techniques
  • Marine spatial planning
  • Science communication
  • Public speaking by way of a formal, professional symposium

Marine biodiversity is the cornerstone of ecosystem resilience and stability, and is key to ecological health. However, it’s threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing, and climate change. Areas of particular concern include regions of the high seas beyond national jurisdiction and lacking regulatory, political, or legal protection. One such area is the Sargasso Sea ecosystem at the center of the North Atlantic gyre. This region harbors a uniquely diverse ecosystem associated with floating seaweed known as Sargassum, flourishing amidst the ‘blue desert’ of this nutrient-poor area.

Original research by SEA Semester students has directly contributed to international efforts to conserve the Sargasso Sea. You’ll continue that research, conducting a hands-on assessment of marine biodiversity using cutting-edge morphological, molecular, and statistical analyses. Beyond gaining knowledge and practical skills in conservation science and policy, you’ll be introduced to the career paths available in ocean stewardship, from marine science to conservation law to public outreach. This semester offers direct interaction with experts in the fi eld through which you will begin to form professional relationships; potential internship mentors, graduate school advisors, employers, and colleagues.

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 St. Croix 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 week-long 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 plans. The program concludes with a capstone experience. Students will share their scientific research and protection 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 conservation law 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.

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.

Course Descriptions

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.


Bermuda Port Stop

Please note that this is an example itinerary, based on previous voyages, and is subject to change, availability, and confirmation of all components.

Day 1

St. Georges, Bermuda

Arrive in in Bermuda, clear customs, furl and dress the ship. Step foot on dry land for the first time after nearly 3 weeks at sea.

Day 2

North Rock coral reef, Bermuda

Tour the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo. Attend a lionfish lecture and dissection in the morning, before snorkeling at two coral reef locations in the afternoon. BBQ for dinner accompanied by a Sargasso Sea Stakeholder discussion.

Day 3

Tobacco Bay Beach, Bermuda

Start the day with a tour of Bermuda Radio, where they transmit and receive important maritime information, ranging from weather updates, incoming and outgoing vessels, safe travel routes, possible distress calls and even keep track of marine protected areas, to ensure that these areas are not impacted by human activity. Free time in the afternoon allows for shopping, exploring, and swimming.

Day 4

Underwater glider, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science

Visit the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science (BIOS), responsible for the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series program, the longest running aquatic time series in the world. After a break for lunch, meet with local fishermen to discuss to current social and political positions of those directly involved in the fishing community in Bermuda.

Day 5

Beach clean-up, Bermuda

Several guest speakers visit the ship to discuss marine conservation policy and politics in Bermuda. Hear from members of the Sargasso Sea Commission, an international group attempting to create conservation policy in the Sargasso Sea. Help these conservation efforts by participating in the beach clean-up in the afternoon.

Day 6

beach, Bermuda

Enjoy a full day off to explore Bermuda. Visit Crystal Cave, swim in an elevated salt water pool in the jungle, hike Abbot Cliffs and sample as much frozen yogurt as possible.

Day 7

St. Georges Harbor, Bermuda

The final morning in port is spent as a field day, readying the Corwith Cramer for sea. Take departure late morning and begin sailing north for New York City.

Life at Sea

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

Past Symposium Highlights

Sample Student Research Posters

Notable Past Participants:

Vera Agostini, The Nature Conservancy  View 2014 Talk
Adam Baske, Pew Environmental Group 
Sylvia Earle, Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue View 2014 Talk
David Freestone, Sargasso Sea Alliance View 2014 Talk
Annette Govindarajan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 
Meaghan Jeans*, New England Aquarium 
Jack Kittinger, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, Conservation International 
Caleb McClennen*, Wildlife Conservation Society 

*Denotes SEA Semester alumni

Life on Shore

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.

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How to Apply

  1. Complete an application form
    Apply online. (Note: the application fee is waived for students from affiliated institutions. Contact your Admissions Counselor for the code!)
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)

    List your full name on each. Submit via email to or fax to 800-977-8516.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  3. Request and submit transcripts
    Official college transcripts are required for all applicants. E-transcripts must be emailed to Hard copies must remain sealed and be sent directly from your institution to:

         SEA Office of Admissions
         P.O. Box 6
         Woods Hole, MA 02543

    High school transcripts are required for students who have not yet completed two years of college. They may be unofficial and submitted via email to or by fax to 800-977-8516.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.