Pacific Reef Expedition






Examine the effects of climate change on coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Explore Hawai’i’s coral reefs – among the world’s most diverse ecosystems
  • Learn snorkel-based survey techniques
  • Evaluate the threats of pollution and climate change
SUMMER 2023: May 22, 2023 – June 20, 2023
Pacific Reef Expedition
Cruise Track

Summer 2023 Voyage:

Cruise Track: Honolulu, HI to Honolulu, HI

Destinations & Port Stops: All port stops are highly dependent on weather conditions at the time of arrival but may include reef areas on Hawai’i, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu.

May 22 – June 2, 2023: Shore component in Honolulu

June 3 – June 20, 2023: At sea

Application Deadline: May 5, 2023

This four week program explores widespread changes to the marine environment, impacting both the ecosystems and the people that inhabit the Pacific Ocean’s coral reefs.

Program Highlights

  • Conduct snorkel-based reef surveys
  • Gain hands-on sailing and leadership experience
  • Participate in original data collection and authentic research
  • View full program description

Academic Credit

Pacific Reef Expedition carries 4 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.  View course descriptions & syllabi

Who Should Apply?

This is an excellent program for students interested in the science of coral reefs. Coral reef conservation is a critical issue in the modern ocean world, and all majors can benefit from first-hand work on reefs and conservation.

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.

Featured Blog

Rowan DeWitt, C watch, sophomore at Lake Forest College in Illinois 

The previous watch had done a neuston net tow and a water sample around midnight, and it was up to our watch to process it. When I peeked into the lab to see how it was going, they were busy shaking lantern fish out of a test tube. They also showed me a bucket where they had pulled in a couple of small man-o-war jellyfish, as well as a baby flying fish. I was eventually stationed at lookout, on the front of the ship. I sat in the dark for quite a while, watching the clouds move and the ocean swell. Eventually, the first hints of the sunrise touched the horizon. Around the same time, I spotted it – land!

As we got closer, the small trees came into view. Caroline Island is completely uninhabited, and as a result is in great condition ecologically. Lots of birds – Blue-Footed Boobies, Terns, and Frigate Birds – were flocking on and around the ship as sunlight broke through the clouds and lifted the mist from the island.

Pacific Reef Expedition

Program Description

Thriving, successful island and atoll communities depend on healthy oceans – and healthy coral reefs. Throughout history, reefs and their linked ecosystems have protected islands and provided food for growing human populations. Today, they also attract tourists and drive economic development. But coral reefs face many threats, including overfishing, reduced water quality, and rising temperatures and lower pH caused by climate change. Effective solutions require an understanding of the economic, political, and cultural landscape, as well as ocean and climate science.

Through coursework in Hawai’i followed by an extended research voyage at sea, students in this semester will study tropical marine ecosystems, their diverse marine life inhabitants, and the impact of human actions upon them. 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 Pacific. During six weeks at sea aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, you will develop and refine your reef survey techniques and collect observations for your comparative reef project at several reef locations. You will also learn how to crew a tall ship and hone your leadership skills, all while voyaging in some of the most remote and pristine regions of the Pacific Ocean.

This program is for any student interested in exploring the changing Pacific Ocean environment through hands-on research and leadership experience at sea and is an opportunity to contribute to a growing body of knowledge about the health of coral reefs.

Students will participate in snorkel survey operations on a variety of reef ecosystems, collect real-time ecology and oceanography data, develop leadership skills, and ground-truth beliefs about policies and global change in the Pacific.

Program goals and learning outcomes

  • Understand ecological and socio-economic importance of coral reef ecosystems
  • Study local and global human impacts on oceanic and coral reef ecosystem processes
  • Understand and apply field-based methods in tropical marine ecology and oceanography research

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Practical Oceanographic Research (4 Credits) – 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.

Pacific Reef Expedition

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.

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

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