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Summer Study at Sea

SEA Semester: Pacific Reef Expedition

Contribute to a new body of knowledge… Chronicle the state of coral reefs in the remote Pacific Ocean. Participate in oceanographic research while making an epic 2,600-nautical mile passage across the Equator from Tahiti to Hawai'i. Retrace historic voyages of Polynesian migration, mastering time-tested navigation methods that rely on the sun, stars, and moon. Visit some of the most remote island atolls in the world to document the effects of environmental change.

Overview: Summer 2018 | Polynesia & Hawaii

Voyage Map

Click map to enlarge.

Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions / Waitlisting


This field-based program for all majors will explore the changing Pacific Ocean environment through science and leadership lenses, including a rare chance to study remote, pristine coral reef ecosystems up close.


Cruise Track: Pape’ete, Tahiti to Honolulu, Hawaii
Destinations: Pape’ete > Rangiroa > Caroline Island, Kiribati > Kiritimati > Honolulu


April 23 – June 24, 2018

April 23 – May 18: Required Online Coursework
May 23 – June 24: At Sea

Program Highlights

  • Open ocean passage
  • Equatorial crossing
  • Snorkel-based reef surveys
  • Traditional Polynesian and Western navigation methods
  • Hands-on sailing and leadership experience
  • Original data collection and authentic research

Who Should Apply?

This program is ideal for any undergraduate with an interest in the oceans. We welcome students of all majors to apply.

Program Description

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Students will have the rare opportunity to contribute to a growing body of knowledge about the susceptibility of remote coral reefs to climate change: an important question, since they support some of the richest diversity of species on the planet.

Unlike other SEA Semester programs, Pacific Reef Expedition does not begin with a shore component at our Woods Hole, Massachusetts campus. Therefore, the program requires participation in and successful completion of four online training modules (live webinars, discussion forums, and associated assignments) prior to sailing. Access the full syllabus below for further details.

After completing the initial online coursework and upon joining the SSV Robert C. Seamans in Tahiti, students will set sail for Hawaii, conducting snorkel-based photographic and visual surveys of the local corals, fish, and invertebrates found among three distinct island atolls along the way. Comparative research of environments that have experienced wide variations in development— Caroline Island (none), Rangiroa (moderate) and Kiritimati (extreme)— will allow students to document and compare the potential effects of climate change. Data collected during this voyage could help shed new light on the ability of reefs to endure and adapt to global climate change.

Coursework in Practical Oceanographic Research offers the opportunity to carry out oceanographic research projects while sailing across the Equatorial Pacific. In small teams, students will examine the richness and variety of marine life in coral reef environments at different locations along the cruise track. No science prerequisites – see what field research is all about!

All students will participate as full, working member of the scientific team and sailing crew aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

Pacific Reef Expedition carries 7 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

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.

Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)

(Previously titled Practical Oceanography II)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Introduction to oceanographic research. Design a collaborative, hypothesis-driven project following the scientific process. Collect original data. Conduct analysis and interpretation, then prepare a written report and oral presentation.


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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.