Caribbean Reef Expedition






Take a multi-pronged approach to effective reef conservation…

  • Explore the health and biodiversity of coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean
  • Learn snorkel-based reef survey techniques
  • Contribute to local conservation efforts and evaluate the threats of marine pollution and climate change
FALL 2023: October 5, 2023 – December 23, 2023
Reef diving

Fall 2023 Voyage:

Cruise Track: St. Croix, USVI to St. Croix, USVI

Destinations & Port Stops: St. Thomas, St. John, Dominica, Montserrat, and Antigua (stops will be evaluated based on current CDC guidance for COVID-19 travel.)

October 5, 2023 – November 13, 2023: Shore component in Woods Hole

November 14, 2023 – November 24, 2023: Shore component in St. Croix

November 25, 2023 – December 23, 2023: At sea

Program Highlights

    • Develop and refine snorkel-based reef survey techniques
    • Conduct research at sea and at Caribbean island reefs
    • Contribute to marine conservation policy efforts
    • View full program description

Academic Credit

Caribbean Reef Expedition in Fall 2022 carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.  View course descriptions & syllabi

Who Should Apply?

This hands-on coral reef studies program is ideal for undergraduate students with an interest in conservation policy and/or marine ecosystems. Students will approach solutions to effective reef management in the context of history, policy, and science. We welcome students of all majors to apply.

SEA Admissions and Financial Aid staff members offer individual advising and assistance to help students complete the application process. We encourage you to contact one of us to learn if SEA is right for you.

Corwith Cramer
Moored ship
Class on ship

“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. 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

Program Description

Program Goals/Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand ecological and socio-economic importance of coral reef ecosystems
  • Study impacts of local and global change on oceanic and coral reef ecosystem processes
  • Effective team leadership and membership, particularly environmental leadership
  • Human interactions with coral reefs including fundamental drivers of local, U.S., and international policy affecting coral reefs

Skills Gained

  • Practical experience in oceanographic data collection, analysis, and reporting
  • Effective team leadership and membership, particularly environmental leadership
  • Policy evaluation and critique
  • Collaborative research and writing, including a peer revision process

Throughout human history, coral reefs and their intricately linked ecosystems have protected islands from eroding and provided food resources for growing human populations. Coral reefs attract tourists and drive economic development, and force us to take pause and marvel at their natural beauty and abundance. A healthy reef is not only part of a healthy ocean but also a thriving, successful island community. Nowhere is this truer than in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, coral reefs face many threats related to human excess. Overfishing, reduced water quality, physical disturbance, invasive species, and rising temperatures and lower pH due to climate change all threaten the health of reef ecosystems, and reduce their ability to provide the important ecological services that the Caribbean people have come to rely upon.

Effective solutions to the management of coral reefs requires an understanding of the historical context underpinning the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the Caribbean today alongside the scientific foundation of how the oceans and climate interact and leadership skills enabling decisive, effective action and engagement. During this program, students will examine how a variety of local and international organizations, communities, and businesses have joined together to protect, conserve, and sustainably manage coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Beginning on shore in Woods Hole, you will develop the background knowledge to understand history, science, leadership, and policy strategies, and design your comparative reef project to be carried out in the Caribbean. You will then develop and refine your reef survey techniques and collect observations for your comparative reef project at a field station on St. Croix. Then during a month aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer at sea, you will learn how to crew a tall ship and hone your leadership skills, all while continuing your reef research and surveying the ocean environment. The results of your detailed coral reef surveys will allow you to assess the effectiveness of different approaches to coral reef management.

Featured Blog

Nathan Bears, Chief Mate, A Watch

This morning began with the sound of tree frogs and cicada singing away to the starry sky.  Before the light of the sun brightened the sky, there was a perfect view of the Southern Cross just above the horizon.  Being at just above 18 degrees north we are lucky to be able to see it, a few months ago, it would have been full daylight by the time it rose above the horizon.

A beautiful sunrise over the hills of St. John and a delicious breakfast from our amazing Steward team got the day rolling.  We had two snorkel missions today, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  It was fantastic to see all the lit up faces and big smiles as folks shared stories of what they saw on this beautiful reef off the southern coast of St. John.  Gwynne was particularly stoked to have seen a Queen Angel Fish.

Marine Environmental History
Sand Dollar

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Be an effective leader while leveraging the individual strengths of a team. Use leadership theory and case studies to understand how decisions affect outcomes. Participate as an active member of a ship’s crew, progressively assuming full leadership roles.


Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Employ methods and sources of historians and social scientists. Examine the role of human societies in coastal and open ocean environmental change. Issues include resource conservation, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.


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.


Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.


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.


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.


Syllabus for previous years are available for review. Detailed course content for future programs is dependent on cruise track, seasons, port stops, current events and faculty, and will be available closer to the program start date.


St. Croix Shore Component

The Second Shore Component of SEA’s Caribbean Reef Expedition will be held at the Feather Leaf Inn, located on the west coast of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with field work done at many sites across the island. For each site we visit, we will offer both historical and local context prior to arrival and opportunities for discussion. Working intentionally with the local community and prior students, SEA continually learns from our experiences and as an organization is committed to being good academic partners, travelers, and allies.

SEA has worked cooperatively with local communities in the both the Atlantic and Pacific for nearly 50 years; we acknowledge the painful legacy of colonization that has included genocide, the enactment of forced assimilation, enslavement and the violent support of plantation regimes, and efforts by many to eliminate indigenous cultures. We respect and honor the Taino and Kalinago peoples along with their cultures, and the descendants of forced migrants still connected to this land. SEA faculty, staff, and students are willing to learn from the way of life which has existed in this area for nearly 15,000 years. We also recognize that words are not enough and we are committed to an ongoing effort to decolonize our curriculum and engage in antiracist practices.


Latest News

Go to Top