Each January, RWU biology students and faculty take advantage of the Winter Intersession to leave the cold of New England and venture to the tropics for a short, intensive course in Tropical Ecology. This is a three credit academic course, where students gain first-hand experience with tropical ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and tropical rainforests. For the past three years, the destination has been Belize, in Central America.
For 10 days we explore the natural and cultural highlights that the country has to offer, beginning at the rainforest campsite at Chaa Creek. Here the days are spent with several hikes through the jungle, visits to a butterfly farm, and a canoe trip down the Macal River. By night, most of the fun centers around watching toucans come home to roost, and luring tarantulas and scorpions out of their hideaways!
From our base at Chaa Creek, we are also able to explore the ancient Mayan civilization, with visits to archaeological sites at Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and El Pilar. In addition, a hike through the forest at Ixchel Farm demonstrates the range of plants with medicinal properties used by the Mayans, many of which are still in use today.
From Chaa Creek, we travel southeast along the Hummingbird Highway, making a stop at Blue Hole National Park for lunch, a swim in the water hole, and a descent into a large subterranean cave. We then make our way to Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve for a few more nights in the jungle.
Although jaguar sightings have been elusive on the trips so far, we do get to talk to the howler monkeys in the trees around us, and set off on a series of hikes through the dense rainforest.
For the final few days of the trip, we leave the jungle behind, and take a short boat ride to the island of South Water Cay, to spend some time on the reef. The island has some excellent fringing and patch reefs just offshore, so most of our days (and at least one night) are spent snorkeling close to the beach and at some of the more isolated offshore reefs. On these excursions we have been treated to sea turtles, nurse sharks, large barracuda, spectacular corals, and small and large reef fish by the hundreds. Those who are SCUBA certified can take the opportunity to dive on one of the reef "walls," where the reef ends abruptly and drops off to the seafloor 1000 feet below.
Like all good things the trip must eventually come to an end, and we are thrust back into the New England winter to return to campus in time for the Spring Semester. The class is a unique opportunity for students to explore and experience environments and cultures unlike anything they experience at home.
Students in good academic standing who meet the prerequisites may apply to attend a SEA semester, which is offered through the Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
This program combines intensive research in the areas of oceanography, maritime studies, and nautical science with hands-on experience aboard a traditional sailing ship. Piloting, celestial navigation, and practical seamanship are learned together with oceanographic sampling techniques and marine laboratory procedures.
Prerequisite for majors:
Satisfactory completion of the writing, mathematics, and the five-course Interdisciplinary Core; a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or above; and permission from the program faculty.
Prerequisite for Core Concentration:
Students who are not majoring in science or mathematics may use the SEA Semester to fulfill the Core Concentration requirement provided the following prerequisites are met before the SEA Semester: satisfactory completion of the writing, mathematics, and the five-course Interdisciplinary Core; a GPA of 2.5; and permission of the program faculty.
Students attending a SEA Semester enroll in the following courses:
BIO 411 Applied Oceanography 3 credits
BIO 412 Nautical Science 3 credits
BIO 414 Maritime Studies 3 credits
BIO 416 Marine Technology 4 credits
BIO 418 Practical Oceanographic Research 4 credits
Marine biology majors who successfully complete a SEA Semester must complete a minimum of 20 credits from the marine biology electives for the B.A. degree, or a minimum of 13 credits for the B.S. degree.
Note that RWU financial aid packages may not transfer to the SEA program.
All financial arrangements for the program are made directly with SEA.
Another study abroad option for Biology and Marine biology students is to join a Fall semester program at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS).
This semester-long course of study examines the natural processes and human interventions found in the Gulf Stream, the Sargasso Sea, and the coral archipelago, Bermuda. The semester is split into two sections, with the first 10 weeks devoted to in-depth study in a suite of courses, including coral Reef Ecology and Tropical Marine Invertebrate Zoology. The last four weeks will be entirely committed to a research project of the student's choice. In addition, students have the option of a Research Diving course leading to advanced certification.
Students in the Bermuda semester program enroll in the following courses:
BIO 336: Tropical Marine Invertebrate Zoology (4 credits)
BIO 361: Coral Reef Ecology (4 credits)
BIO 410.01: Research Diving Methods (3 credits)
BIO 410.02: Marine Biology Research (6 credits)
Marine Biology majors participating in the Bermuda semester receive 8 credits for BIO 320 and BIO 335 in the Organismal and Ecology elective category, and receive 3 credits towards the Applied elective category.