Marine Biology of Coral Reefs

Summer 2021
4 (UW - Zoology 400)
Good swimming ability, 2.75 GPA
Apply By:
March 5, 2021

Snorkel the second largest barrier reef on the planet, off the coast of the diverse Central American nation of Belize, on this 10-day field expedition. You’ll study the ecology and conservation of fish, the water-cleaning role of sponges, the sensitivity of corals to global climate change, and how reefs differ from ecosystems on land. Then, you’ll put your knowledge into practice on a remote Caribbean island – Southwater Caye – in the middle of a world-class marine reserve.  One the Marine Biology of Coral Reefs course you’ll submerge yourself in oceanography, marine biology, and marine conservation in a blended format.  Begin with two weeks of online instruction, then embark on a two week marine science expedition to Belize, where you will conduct a research project of your own design, accompanied by seasoned marine biology scientists.

*Note: The health and safety of our students, and our staff, are our highest priority.  Along with our US and Ecuadorian partner institutions, we are closely monitoring the Covid-19 pandemic and will make modifications to upcoming programs as needed.

Where We Go

Notebooks and powerpoints give way to masks and snorkels when you dive into your underwater classroom in Belize

Your classroom will be the turquoise waters of Belize, a small but intensely diverse nation in Central America.  The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, second largest on the planet after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, fringes the coast of Belize and is dotted with coral gardens, mangrove forests, and a necklace of tiny islands.  You’ll live on the tranquil island of South Water Caye, where our cabins and classroom are nestled under tall palm trees, all within feet of the crystal clear ocean water.  The island is surrounded by the 100,000 acre South Water Caye Marine Reserve, which protects a stunning diversity of corals, fishes, turtles, seabirds, and other marine life.

On the way to the reef we pass through the coastal fishing village of Dangriga, home of many traditional Garifuna people, whose unique food, music, and dancing contribute to Belize’s unique cultural flavor.  Some of the friendly staff at Southwater Caye, and many of the dedicated marine reserve rangers, call this quaint seaside town home.

Belize has a lot to offer beyond coral reefs.  We can’t leave the country without exploring the spectacular rainforests teeming with wildlife that cloak the country’s interior.  You’ll journey deep into the Blue River Rainforest reserve where you will be exposed to a different side of Belizean culture, and get a chance to see monkeys, toucans, and maybe even an elusive jaguar.

Course Content

Master the fundamentals of marine ecology in online lectures, so you can spend more of your time in Belize under the waves

The online content will be presented via video lectures, discussion forums, and collaboration tools (wikis) in an asynchronous format, providing maximum flexibility for students who are off campus or working during the summer. Fundamentals of oceanography and an overview of the ecology of mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses and other marine ecosystems will be presented during the online component. You will read peer-reviewed marine science literature and collaborate online to develop a research proposal prior to traveling to Belize.

During the first 3-4 days, you will visit the nearby seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecosystems and gain experience in marine field research through structured field activities. You will also practice and refine your proposed research methods. Over the second week, you will carry out your proposed research projects, obtaining guidance and feedback from the course instructors, and participating in nightly group reflections.

During the final 3-4 days, you will analyze your data, write up your results, and prepare an oral presentation that will be presented to the group in a final symposium. Daily field work will be complemented by group discussions and presentations on marine conservation.

Apply Now!

Applying could not be simpler, just submit online forms to Ceiba and the University of Wisconsin by the first Friday in March. Need to plan your summer sooner? Ceiba offers provisional early acceptance to qualified candidates.

Deadline:  Apply by Friday, March 5 for the 2021 summer course.

Cost:  Ceiba’s 2020 direct tuition is $3950, but UW also adds a credit-administration fee; see their program page for details. 2021 cost details will be released at the end of 2020.

How To Apply:  Applying is a simple two-step process!  First, fill out Ceiba’s online application below.  Then, go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison program page to fill out their application and upload a few more documents.

Early Acceptance:  You are welcome to submit your application before the formal deadline and request an early review (contact courses). Ceiba issues provisional early acceptances to strong candidates, which virtually guarantees you a spot in the program as long as you meet University of Wisconsin-Madison eligibility requirements. See the UW Study Abroad program page for more detail.

Financial Aid:  Participants in Ceiba programs are eligible for any financial aid and scholarships offered by the University of Wisconsin or other sources to support your college studies; please contact Jessica Vodvarka ( and Lindsay Heiser Barger ( to explore a wide range of available options.

Apply Now!