Coral Reef Ecology in Belize

June 24- August 2, 2024
Good swimming ability, 2.75 GPA
Apply By:
MARCH 1, 2024

Snorkel the second largest barrier reef on the planet, off the coast of the diverse Central American nation of Belize, on this two-week 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 – at the Glover’s Reef Research Station – in the middle of a world-class marine reserve.  On the Coral Reef Ecology course you’ll submerge yourself in oceanography, marine biology, and marine conservation in a blended format.  Begin with three weeks of online instruction, then embark on a life-changing marine science expedition to Belize, where you will conduct a research project of your own design, accompanied by experienced marine biologists.

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 fantastically 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 remote and tranquil Middle Caye, where our cabins and classroom are nestled under palm trees and surrounded by the crystal clear Caribbean.  The island is the heart of Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing 135 square miles of pristine waters that harbor over 800 patch reefs and protect 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 City River, home of many traditional Garifuna people, whose unique food, music, and dancing contribute to Belize’s diverse cultural flavor.  Some of the friendly staff at Glover’s Reef 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, and learning about the country’s ancient history.  You’ll explore the ancient archaeological sites of Lamanai or Xunantunich, where Mayan temples are surrounded by tropical forests and the calls of toucans ring off the stunning stone structures.  On this expedition you will be exposed to a different side of Belizean culture, and get a chance to see monkeys, macaws, sloths, and maybe even an elusive jaguar.

Course Content

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

Coral Reef Ecology is a blended course, beginning with three weeks of online content to give you essential scientific background, followed by two weeks in Belize.  The dates for these two components of the course are:

June 24- July 12: Online Learning.  A mostly asynchronous overview on principles of oceanography, classification and ecology of marine organisms, basic biology and ecology of coral reef, sea grass, and mangrove ecosystems, coral reef conservation, and research methods in marine biology.

July 19- August 2: Belize Expedition.  Travel to the Belizean barrier reef to carry out your research project in a remote research station.  We’ll also take time to explore tropical rainforest, freshwater rivers, and Mayan ruins. (*note that UW students who have already taken the Rainforest and Coral Reef FIG need only enroll for the Belize expedition)

The online content will be presented asynchronously, via video lectures, discussion forums, and collaboration tools (wikis), providing maximum flexibility for students who are off campus or working during the summer. You will read peer-reviewed literature in marine science and collaborate online to develop a research proposal prior to traveling to Belize.

Once in Belize, we will spend a few days familiarizing yourself with the coral reef ecosystem, as well as diverse seagrass and mangrove sites, 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.

On the last few days of the trip, we’ll take an excursion to a mainland rainforest to see amazing wildlife like toucans and monkeys, float on freshwater streams through limestone caves, and visit an ancient Maya site where you can climb pyramids built two thousand years ago.

Course Info & Syllabus

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

Deadline:  Apply by Friday, March 1 for the 2024 summer course.

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.


  • 2-credit track Summer 2024 (FIG Students ONLY)*: $4200
  • 4-credit track Summer 2024 (all other students)*:  $4950

* The fees shown are for Wisconsin residents who apply through UW-Madison.  Arranging credit through another institution or don’t need credit? Please contact us!

Fee above includes UW-Madison credits and administration fee; see their program page for details.  Airfare to/from Belize is not included.

IMPORTANT:  The 2-credit track does not include the online portion and is only open to students who participated in the Rainforests & Coral Reefs FIG course (UW Botany 265) during the prior fall semester All other students must take the 4-credit track.

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 Larissa Yankovich ( or Lindsay Heiser Barger ( to explore a wide range of available options.

Refund and Cancellation Policy: Any program fees paid by students enrolled in the Coral Reef Ecology course is fully refundable if the student chooses to withdraw for any reason through May 15. After that date, and up until the course start date, a refund will only be given in the event of a documented illness of the student that prevents their travel, less a $500 cancellation fee.  After the course start date, no refund will be given. If the program is cancelled by Ceiba or the University of Wisconsin for any reason prior to the course start date, the program fee will be refunded in full to all participants.

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