Watching a bicolor angelfish in a tank in your university’s lab is one thing, but seeing one amongst the coral of the Great Barrier Reef is another experience altogether. Studying marine biology abroad provides you with the opportunity to experience first-hand the subject and the incredible organisms and ecosystems that you are studying. If you live in a landlocked state, it can be difficult to access these ecosystems, so studying marine biology abroad is a necessity for your educational and career success. Don’t be afraid to dive in and learn more about both the world of marine biology and the rest of the world as well!
Why Study Abroad
Marine biology study abroad programs allow you to step outside of the classroom and into the world you’ve been studying in textbooks. The practical knowledge gained from fieldwork on-location not only strengthens your resume, but also your capabilities as a scientist.
The cultural experience of studying marine biology abroad also gives you the chance to learn from another country’s approach to marine conservation and research. As the oceans do not belong to just one country, the work completed in the water is a global responsibility and international collaboration is essential. Learning how to partner with diverse cultures and work together in the field of marine biology are just a few of the incredible opportunities that studying abroad provides.
Where you decide to study marine biology abroad is dependent upon your interests within the subject, as the ecosystems in the Mediterranean can vary greatly from those in the Pacific. With the world’s oceans covering 71 percent of the earth’s surface, there are a great number of locations to study marine biology abroad in various parts of the world, such as Central America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or Africa. There are many great destinations around the world to study marine biology.
Costa Rica is distinctly positioned since its east coast faces the Caribbean Sea and its west coast faces the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica offers endless possibilities to study tropical marine biology. With the biodiversity of Costa Rica’s ecosystems, marine biology study abroad programs located in cities such as San Jose may focus on anything from coral reefs, to sandy and muddy beaches, to mangroves, to estuaries. Costa Rica is also known worldwide for its ecotourism, leading the world in innovative green travel.
Antarctica provides an incredibly unique study abroad opportunity for students who are not afraid of (a chilly) adventure. Marine biology study abroad programs in this rugged, remote landscape allow students to have close encounters with arctic marine wildlife. The White Continent is not for the faint of heart, but it is an experience unlike any other—both personally and academically.
Australia struggles to preserve its Great Barrier Reef—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—in the face of economic pressure to expand oil mining. As a result, marine biology programs in Australia offer students the chance to explore the world’s largest coral reef system with a focus on not only the biodiversity of the reef, but also the sustainability issues that are inevitably tied to conservation of such an important ecosystem.
Courses & Programs
The structure of your program depends on which marine biology study abroad program you choose, although most courses that you will take abroad will be in partnership with a host university in the country that you study in.
Most marine biology courses abroad combine classroom learning with hands-on fieldwork; as such, some previous lab experience is typically required. Fieldwork may involve inshore or offshore sampling, surveying, and identification while on the coast, on reefs, or in open water on research vessels. Much of the work done in the water will be carried through to your lab work and a semester-long research project.
Subjects may include Ecology, Sustainability, Human Impact on Marine Biology, or Tropical Botany, amongst others; what is remarkable about these courses is they will be tailored specifically to the region in which you are studying. Unlike taking courses at your home university, studying marine biology abroad not only allows you to see firsthand the marine life described in your textbooks, but also allows you to see marine life on a grander scale in the context of the entire ecosystem.
It is important to thoroughly research each study abroad program to ensure that the area of study pertains to your interests within the field of marine biology. Marine biology study abroad programs are very specific to what type of water and what type of organisms students will be studying, and the time of year may also affect what you are able to study. The amount of hands-on interaction with the subjects is also a significant consideration to take into account when selecting a study abroad program in marine biology.
Studying marine biology abroad allows you to explore your interests both inside and outside of the classroom and being able to physically observe organisms in their natural habitats gives you a much more thorough understanding of marine biology as a whole.
Hands-on fieldwork and practical working knowledge in a lab are excellent experiences to demonstrate to grad schools or future employers in a number of fields.
Aside from the excellent academic experience, studying abroad also offers the opportunity to explore another country’s culture and its approach to scientific work. The challenge of adapting to a new country—a new ecosystem, if you will—can only help you grow into a better student, a conscientious scientist, and a true global explorer.