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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.

Spring 2021 | Caribbean

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions


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 to New York City
Destinations: St. Croix > Bermuda (7-day stop) > New York City
Port stops subject to change.


March 22 - June 12, 2021

March 22 - April 16 : Shore I in Woods Hole
April 20 – May 20: At sea
May 25 – June 12: Shore II in Woods Hole

Program Highlights

  • Develop skills in molecular ecology and policy analysis
  • Present at a professional symposium
  • Use scientific data to inform conservation efforts
  • Explore real-world interactions between science, marine policy, conservation, and law

Who Should Apply?

This study abroad program 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

Photo of SEA Semester

Skills Gained

  • DNA extraction, sequencing, and molecular analysis techniques
  • Policy analysis
  • Science communication
  • Public speaking

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 at sea 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 Key West 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

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

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

Photo of SEA Semester

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.


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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
    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.). 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.
  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.