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 from Key West to Woods Hole, with a port stop in Bermuda. 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 2023: March 6, 2023 – May 26, 2023

SPRING 2023 Voyage:

Cruise Track: Key West, FL to Woods Hole, MA

Destinations & Port Stops: St. George’s, Bermuda (Port stops subject to current CDC guidance for COVID-19 travel.)

March 6, 2023 – March 31, 2023: Shore component in Woods Hole

April 3, 2023 – May 7, 2023: At sea

May 8, 2023 – May 26, 2022: Shore component in Woods Hole

Note: This program is designed to take the place of a full spring term. While it’s an especially good fit for trimester/quarter students, many students take 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 measuring marine productivity, biodiversity and marine spatial planning
  • Employ effective/persuasive communication techniques and strategies at a professional symposium
  • Explore real-world interactions between science, conservation, environmental justice, and marine policy
  • View full program description

Academic Credit

Marine Biodiversity & Conservation carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program. View course descriptions & syllabi

Unparalleled Resume-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

More research highlights

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. Motivated students interested in science who have completed only introductory-level science coursework are also encouraged to apply, as arrangements to accommodate them may be possible through elective course enrollment.

Prerequisites: A minimum of three lab science courses (at least one at the 300-level) or permission from the SEA faculty.

SEA 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.

Students on Ship
Cramer sailing
Sea turtle
Students on boat

“Welcome aboard. Within these 40 meters, the 32 of us will live, work, and study for five weeks with nothing but blue in sight. You will repeat to yourself, “Ship, shipmate, self.” Most of all, you will gain a kind of strength and appreciation for life not attainable on dry land.”

Jana Maravi, Rochester Institute of Technology

Program Description

Skills Gained

  • Marine ecological field sampling across a diverse array of coastal and offshore habitats
  • Statistical analysis, data visualization, and molecular lab work and DNA sequence analysis
  • Marine spatial planning and stakeholder engagement
  • Science communication and designing an environmental movement
  • Public speaking and leadership development

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 COP15 meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity promoted a global initiative to designate 30% of Earth’s ocean area as protected areas by 2030. Currently, less than 8% 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 program directly contributes to this ongoing international effort.

Original research conducted by students during this project-based applied science and policy semester at sea program directly contributes to ongoing efforts to properly manage multiple stakeholder needs of these important marine resources.

On Shore I – Preparation in Woods Hole
Students will build a conceptual framework in marine ecology, governance and conservation while honing practical skills. Global and regional patterns of marine biodiversity are examined through literature review. Connections between biodiversity, ecosystem function, and conservation are explored during interdisciplinary seminar discussion sessions. Underlying principles and current research applications in population genetics and phylogenetics are taught by experts in the field. Field research is central to the study of marine biodiversity. Students leverage hands-on laboratory experience to learn current techniques for assessing marine biodiversity using both morphological and molecular methods in preparation for fieldwork at sea. Throughout the first three weeks, students will explore the scientific process as they develop research inquiries, plan sample collection strategies and craft a collaborative research proposal focused on a select group of ecologically and/or economically important organisms in the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

At Sea 
The Florida Keys to Woods Hole, MA research cruise allows for first-hand exploration of the Sargasso Sea. In addition to measuring biodiversity for their research projects, students will collect archive samples for the global marine biodiversity assessment effort.

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 research and communication experience: students will share their scientific research and conservation strategies during a Symposium convened on the SEA campus.

Beyond building content knowledge and practical skills in conservation science and management, 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 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.

Ship at sea
Science on ship

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Life on Shore

At the beginning of every SEA 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. 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.

The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs. 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.

C-300 Class at Woods Hole
Volleyball on campus
Student at helm

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs – 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 programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA programs 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

Research & Symposium Highlights

Sample Student Research Projects:
A Marine Management Proposal for the Sargasso Sea
Students Seek the story of Sargassum through scientific inquiry within the Sargasso Sea

Past Symposium Participants:
Vera Agostini, The Nature Conservancy (YouTube)
Adam Baske, Pew Environmental Group
Sylvia Earle, Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue (YouTube)
David Freestone, Sargasso Sea Alliance (YouTube)
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

Student Research Posters:


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