Marine Biology of Coral Reefs

May 23 - June 26, 2022
4 (UW - Zoology 400)
Good swimming ability, 2.75 GPA
Apply By:
Feb 17 for 2023 program

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 Marine Biology of Coral Reefs 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 seasoned marine biology scientists.

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 a remote and tranquil island, 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 journey to the Lamanai archaeological site, 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 marine ecology in online lectures, so you can spend more of your time in Belize under the waves

Marine Biology of Coral Reefs 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:

May 23 – June 11, Online:  Asynchronous content 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.

June 13 – 26, Underwater:  Expedition to the Belizean barrier reef to carry out your research project, and enjoy excursions to a rainforest and Maya site.

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 learn fundamentals 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. You will read peer-reviewed marine science literature 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 first two days of the trip, we’ll take an excursion to a mainland rainforest to see amazing wildlife like toucans and monkeys, and visit the ancient Maya site of Xanuntanich.

Questions? Contact Us!

Apply Now!

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

Deadline:  Apply by Friday, February 18 for the 2022 summer course.

Cost:  The Ceiba program fee for the 2022 course is $4,575. UW also adds a credit-administration fee; see their program page for details. If you participated in the Rainforests & Coral Reefs FIG in 2021, your tuition will be slightly different; please consult with UW-IAP for details.

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 Matthew Geisler ( and Lindsay Heiser Barger ( to explore a wide range of available options.

Refund and Cancellation Policy: Due to to travel uncertainty stemming from the global pandemic, any program fees paid by students enrolled in the Marine Biology of Coral Reefs course is fully refundable if the student chooses to withdraw for any reason through May 16, 2022. 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.


Apply Now!