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Study Abroad Summer

Ocean Exploration: Plastics Expedition

Designed for students of any major who are interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of our world’s oceans while acquiring first-hand experience in field-research and sailing aboard a tall ship. Students earn 11 semester-hour credits for successful completion.

Program Description

Voyage Map

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Understanding the oceans is an essential aspect of appreciating how the world works and how we relate to it as human beings. The sea is so complex that it is impossible to comprehend from the perspective of a single academic discipline. With that in mind, this interdisciplinary semester combines insights from oceanography and the social sciences with practical skills in seamanship, allowing students to deepen their awareness of and appreciation for the ocean through hands-on research and personal experience, especially related to marine plastics.


This program offers students a deeper understanding of the complex marine environment through field-based research, a sailing adventure aboard a tall ship, and innumerable opportunities for skill-building, leadership development, and personal growth both on shore and at sea. This program emphasizes collection and analysis of data related to marine plastics research.


Cruise Track: Honolulu, Hawai’i to San Diego, California


June 13 - July 24

June 13-June 23 - On shore in Woods Hole
June 25-July 24 - At Sea

Program Highlights

Develop lifelong skills in leadership, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking.
Conduct field research on marine plastics while gathering real-time data that contributes to a global understanding of our oceans.

Who Should Apply?

This program is designed for students of any major who are interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of our world’s oceans while acquiring first-hand experience in field-research and sailing aboard a tall ship. Students earn 11 semester-hour credits for successful completion.

Life & Academics on Shore

The Plastics Expedition begins with a 10-day shore component in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. During this time, you will undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you academically and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop a research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You will develop and practice scientific survey skills in local environments and learn about marine plastics research.

Life & Academics at Sea

Following the shore component, you will board the SSV Robert C. Seamans for a 29-day voyage sailing from Honolulu Hawai’i to San Diego, California. This voyage traverses key portions of the North Pacific Gyre, known for its accumulations of marine plastics and debris.  Because of this unique cruise track, students will gain first-hand experience with marine plastics research and sampling techniques. 

Once on board, students become working members of the crew - one of the hallmarks of all SEA programs. Commitment to the successful functioning of a team, in a supporting role or as a leader, is an essential element of the sea component as students learn the operations of the vessel on deck — steering by compass and by the stars, setting and striking sails, plotting the ship’s position using modern technology and traditional celestial navigation tools — and in the lab — deploying nets to catch marine plants and animals, sending sensing equipment hundreds of meters below the surface, listening to the underwater soundscape to observe dolphin and whale behavior, and otherwise contributing to ongoing research projects focused on human impacts on marine ecosystems.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Nautical Science – 200 level, 3 credits

Toward a Sustainable Ocean – Conservation and Management – 300 level, 3 credits

Practical Oceanographic Research NS226 – 200 level, 4 credits

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How to Apply

  1. Complete an application form. Please select that you are currently a "Gap/Winter Start Student" when creating your application.
    Apply online.
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)
    List your full name on each. Use the red button below to upload or submit via email to or fax to 857-386-7986.

    Upload Essay and Writing Sample

    1. Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to a gap year program and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will this program complement your future educational goals? Be sure to address all 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 class, and on a topic applicable to the gap year program you are applying for. Please include your name and the context of the sample (class title and brief description of the assignment).
  3. Request and submit transcript
    A complete high school transcript is required for all applicants. Transcripts may be submitted directly from your school via email to; via fax to 857-386-7986; or via mail to:
    SEA Office of Admissions
    P.O. Box 6
    Woods Hole, MA 02543
  4. Submit two (2) references
    The online application will provide a link to email the reference form to your references directly. If you require a PDF version, please download the PDF reference form. One reference should be from teacher who has taught you within the past year. The other can be from a teacher, college counselor or guidance counselor. 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
    Email to schedule your interview.
    Interviews may be conducted over the phone or via Skype. Topics of conversation may include life at your school, academic and extracurricular interests, why you’re taking a gap year, your expectations for life aboard our tall ship, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about us!

Apply for a Passport: Please note that all gap year 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, click here to learn about the requirements for gap year students.