Pacific Reef Expedition






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

After preparatory coursework, you’ll sail the waters of Hawai’i aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans as you study the archipelago’s coral reefs which are seriously threatened by climate change. Your snorkel-based surveys will enhance your understanding of the reefs’ ability to endure and adapt as one the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world.

SUMMER 2023: May 22, 2023 – June 20, 2023
Pacific Reef Expedition

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: April 15, 2023

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.


Program Description

Coral reefs support some of the richest diversity of species on the planet and provide numerous ecological and socio-economic benefits. However, they are now threatened by local and global human impacts including pollution and climate change. After completing initial coursework and orientation training in Honolulu, you’ll join the SSV Robert C. Seamans for a voyage in coastal and offshore waters of Hawai’i. You’ll retrace historic voyages of Polynesian migration, using navigation methods that rely on the sun, stars, and moon, and conduct snorkel-based water quality and ecology surveys of the local corals, fish, and invertebrates to document the effects of environmental change.

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.

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.

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


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