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Session I: Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management

Turks and Caicos Islands

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Location South Caicos
Language English

2015: June 8 - July 7

Rolling admissions. Early submissions encouraged for acceptance into program of choice.

$5,600 ($1,000 discount for enrolling in two sessions; Includes all tuition, room, board, local travel. Excludes airfare)

Financial Aid Click here for more information about need-based scholarships, loans, and travel grants.

College Undergraduates: No academic prerequisites

Credits 4 credits (8 credits if taken with Session II)


The School for Field Studies (SFS) Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management summer program provides students with the opportunity to gain an understanding of tropical and sub-tropical marine ecosystems; develop skills, both in and out of water, to monitor the health and conservation status of tropical marine ecosystems; and identify and engage with stakeholders to design and enact effective marine policy.


During my four weeks abroad, I learned an incredible amount about the surrounding marine ecosystems, the sustainability of the local fishers' livelihoods, and about myself. This study abroad program was an opportunity that exceeded my wildest dreams.        

—Hailey Shepherd, Dixie State University, Summer ‘14



The turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are abundant with marine life and provide the perfect laboratory for marine studies. The relatively healthy marine and coastal ecosystems support much of the community on the island of South Caicos, with fisheries providing the primary source of livelihood. The small island community embraces the challenge of balancing economic development with environmental conservation. Having a sound understanding the ecology of key fisheries species and their habitats provides the foundation for achieving this balance through resource management and conservation.

The environment is changing, however, as pollution, climate change, and the unsustainable extraction of precious marine resources, coupled with a growing tourism industry, will likely threaten the island’s fragile ecosystems. Depletion of key resources would also have a dramatic impact on the social systems of South Caicos by putting pressure on food security and employment prospects. Developing sustainable fisheries is essential if this resource-dependent coastal community is to thrive.


Students explore the ecological and socioeconomic aspects of various tropical marine ecosystems, learning how to assess and maintain their health. This includes understanding key factors, such as the need to conserve biodiversity and critical habitats, the nature of sustainable management for important fisheries species such as the queen conch and spiny lobster, and the importance of ensuring environmental management objectives are sympathetic to community livelihood goals. Students also consider how climate change and ocean acidification may impact the TCI’s marine ecosystems, potentially compromising the country’s food security and challenging its fishing and tourism industries. The course helps prepare students to conduct marine research while working with clients and stakeholders.

Students engage in several field exercises identifying and studying coastal ecosystems and their species, including mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass beds. Students also take part in field exercises and workshops that allow them to live the stakeholder experience, cast as the TCI Marine Police in a mock fisheries enforcement exercise, as policy-makers in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) policy analysis exercise, and as fishers, developers, or politicians in the final stakeholder workshops and presentations.



The spectacular reefs, turquoise waters, and island community of South Caicos serve as the laboratory for studies and field work. Students snorkel or SCUBA, gaining valuable field experience using transects and other techniques for population sampling and long-term monitoring, and learn stakeholder engagement techniques to examine policy questions. Potential research sites, field exercises, and excursions in these summer programs include:

  • Exploring coral reefs in the island’s marine parks, fringe and island mangrove ecosystems, and extensive and varied seagrass meadows
  • Tours of current coastal development projects and seafood processing plants
  • Skills workshops, including stakeholder engagement techniques and science dissemination practice
  • Examining anthropogenic impacts to nearshore ecosystems
  • Identifying critical ecosystems around South Caicos
  • Valuing ecosystems of the Turks and Caicos for coastal planning decisions


This summer course can be taken individually or in combination with Applied Marine Research Techniques in Turks & Caicos in Session II.

  • Students participating in both sessions are eligible for a $1,000 discount.
  • Students earn 8 credits
  • Home school financial aid may be applied toward the program. Earning 8 credits likely will allow students to qualify for federal financial aid, depending on their particular situation.
  • There is a five-day break between components for independent travel
  • There are no prerequisites



The Center for Marine Resource Studies is now offering PADI Open Water SCUBA certification to summer students! The certification takes place during the first two weeks of Session I. The course, taught by the Center’s Dive Safety Officer and assisted by four PADI Divemasters, will introduce students to diving and the environment where they will be learning and researching.

The PADI Advanced Open Water certification course will be offered to Open Water certified students during the first two weeks of Session II. Students participating in both sessions may enroll in both certification courses.

Note: It is not necessary to use SCUBA to participate in our program—many students choose to snorkel only. Divers and snorkelers must bring their own SCUBA and snorkeling equipment. Weights and tanks are provided on-site at no cost. There is an additional cost for the certification course(s). Please contact the SFS Admissions Office if you have any questions.



Our program in South Caicos is oriented toward helping the community conserve its natural resources and develop sustainably. With our field station located within the community of South Caicos, SFS students enjoy a warm welcome into the community. There are opportunities to interview fishermen and other residents during academic projects, learn about the local culture, and participate in sporting events and community service projects.


The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies, located just steps from a crystal clear ocean laboratory, is adjacent to Cockburn Harbour, a town of about 1,200 residents. Our self- contained field station sits 40 feet above the water looking directly out to sea. Within a three-mile radius are coral reefs, barrier islands, mangroves, seagrass beds, and carbonate platform flats offering abundant snorkel and dive sites. The facility has a dining area, kitchen, classroom, computer room, and a veranda with spectacular island and ocean views. Students share living quarters in two residence wings. We are fully equipped for marine operations with access to docks, motorboats, an air compressor, and plenty of tanks and weights for SCUBA diving.