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 2023: March 6, 2023 – May 26, 2023
Cruise track

SPRING 2023 Voyage:

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

Destinations & Port Stops: No planned port stops at this time but this will be evaluated based on 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, GIS mapping and data visualization
  • 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; and productive coastal ecosystems provide food resources for 100’s of millions of people worldwide. As articulated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (#14), human health is inextricably tied to effective management of marine resources. In recognition, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan (2011-2020) called for 10% of ocean area to be protected by 2020 but humanity has fallen short of this goal. There is much work yet to be done and we need your help.

In spring 2021 Marine Biodiversity and Conservation students will focus their attention on the Southeast and Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) along the US east coast; ocean ecosystems and resources shared with our international neighbors the Bahamas and Canada, respectively. These ecosystems include 100s of important fisheries species including snapper, grouper, and spiny lobster to the south and cod, scallop, and American lobster to the north that support coastal economies and food supplies worldwide. However, both LMEs are threatened by coastal pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable fishing practices and climate change.

Regional research highlights will include the famed Gulf Stream current and enigmatic Sargassum algae to the south, the historic fishing areas of Chesapeake Bay and Georges Bank to the north, and migrating, endangered Right whales and offshore energy exploration and development that compete for space and protection in both regions.

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. 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, mapping and statistical techniques for measuring biodiversity as well as practical seamanship will prepare students for the research cruise.

At Sea in the Large Marine Ecosystems
The Florida Keys to Woods Hole, MA research cruise allows for first-hand exploration of this important coastal and near-coastal environment and western 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 experience. Students will share their scientific research and conservation strategies for the SE and NE Large Marine Ecosystems with 8-10 experts in national and international marine conservation science and policy during a one-day professional Large Marine Ecosystem 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, Florida Keys 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

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.


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.
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.


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.


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.


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

* Due to COVID19, some programs in 2021 – 2022 may reduce or omit port stops.

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:


Latest News

Go to Top