Boston University Affiliated Programs: Sea Education Association

Sea Education Association

Sea Education Association (SEA) offers six SEA Semester programs in marine and environmental studies—Ocean Exploration, Oceans & Climate, Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems, Energy & the Ocean Environment, and Marine Biodiversity and Conservation—that provide rigorous academic and practical experiences leading to an interdisciplinary understanding of the oceans from our campus in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and our wind-driven sailing ships. SEA accepts students from all majors. We also offer a Summer Session.

SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration

This 17-credit program is an interdisciplinary ocean studies semester that combines natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences with hands-on research and sailing experience. Ocean Exploration attracts students from all majors who are interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of our world’s oceans. The program begins with three 3-credit courses in the six-week shore component in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The second half of the program is the six-week sea component in the Atlantic, Pacific, or Caribbean with two 4-credit courses. Ocean Exploration is offered throughout the academic year. CAS NS 221, 222, and 223 and XAS NS 225 and 226.

SEA Semester: Oceans & Climate

This 17-credit upper-level science semester focuses on the role of the oceans in setting the Earth’s climate, with particular emphasis on carbon cycling. While on shore, students design independent oceanographic research projects to be carried out during the six-week research cruise, learn the fundamental skills for operating a sailing research vessel, and examine and develop skills to address public policy challenges associated with contemporary changes to ocean and coastal environments. Students are guided throughout the semester by SEA faculty and distinguished visiting lecturers from the Woods Hole scientific community and from major institutions around the country. At sea, students gain practical experience in offshore scientific research, carry out all sailing and oceanographic vessel operations, and complete their research project. CAS NS 223, 320, and 321 and XAS NS 324 and 325.

SEA Semester: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

This 17-credit program is a social sciences and humanities-intensive semester focused on understanding 500 years of environmental, political, and social change throughout the diverse islands of the Caribbean region. During the six-week shore component, students take two concurrent classes team-taught by SEA faculty. Maritime History and Culture explores political, cultural, and demographic changes in the Caribbean from the arrival of Europeans to the present; Marine Environmental History uses both scientific and historical evidence to develop an ecological timeline for the Caribbean. During the six-week sea component in the Caribbean, students engage in coursework for three additional classes while studying the environmental consequences of change and human development. Students conduct sampling surveys of the area’s biology, geology, chemistry, and physics while visiting a variety of international ports to examine the Caribbean history and culture. CAS NS 221, 223, 224, 322 and 323.

SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

This 17-credit program is an environmental studies semester that takes an interdisciplinary look at the people and islands of Polynesia in an effort to learn what they can tell us about the global issues of environmental sustainability and cultural continuity. The impacts of environmental change are being felt all over the globe, affecting people and ecosystems in even the most remote locations. A four-week shore component in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, prepares students through academic coursework. During a seven-week sea component in the Pacific, the small islands of French Polynesia serve as a laboratory for studying the effects of such environmental change. Students complete the program with a one-week shore component in Hawaii to consolidate their research and produce a web-based atlas. A total of five courses bridge the shore and sea components. CAS NS 221, 222, 223, 322, and 323.

SEA Semester: Energy & the Ocean Environment

This 17-credit program is an investigative science and policy semester focused on the social, environmental, and technological dimensions of energy production and transportation in coastal and open ocean environments. Energy & the Ocean Environment attracts students interested in investigating the challenges associated with using the oceans for energy security while achieving healthy, sustainable marine ecosystems. A six-week shore component in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, allows students to engage in intensive coursework in the fields of nautical science, public policy, and the climate system while seeking to address and understand the big issues associated with energy and our oceans. During the six-week sea component, students conduct an independent research project related to ocean energy while completing their academic program. CAS NS 223, 320, and 321 and XAS NS 324 and 325.

SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity and Conservation

Marine Biodiversity and Conservation is a 12-week, 18-credit program for upper-level science or policy majors. The oceans cover 70% of our planet and yet less than 1% of their area is protected. Undiscovered ocean biodiversity has the potential to transform medicine, industry, environmental remediation, and energy production, but is threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, fishing, and climate change. With limited knowledge of biodiversity, we lack the data needed to plan rational and effective protection and conservation of the ocean. This semester challenges students to integrate the scientific study of marine biodiversity with conservation planning for the Atlantic high seas area. The program is composed of a framework-building initial five-week shore component, followed by a five-week research cruise and a final two-week interdisciplinary synthesis phase back ashore in Woods Hole. Practical scientific and policy research skills are introduced and practiced while conducting original marine biodiversity research and generating conservation recommendations. A total of five courses bridge the shore and sea components. CAS NS 223, 320, 450, and 460 and XAS NS 325.

SEA Summer Session

An abbreviated version of our interdisciplinary SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration program, the 12-credit SEA Summer Session offers students a comprehensive understanding of the world’s oceans through interdisciplinary coursework on shore and at sea. This eight-week program consists of three 3-credit courses, which are taught on shore in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, during the four-week shore component. A four-week sailing research voyage in the Pacific follows and includes one 3-credit course. CAS NS 221, 222, 223 and 224.

For more information on application and tuition, please contact Sea Education Association; in writing: SEA, P.O. Box 6, Woods Hole, MA 02543; phone: 800-552-3633; website:; email:


  • CAS NS 221 Oceanography (3 cr)
  • CAS NS 222 Maritime Studies (3 cr)
  • CAS NS 223 Nautical Science (3 cr)
  • CAS NS 224 Practical Oceanographic Research (3 cr)
  • XAS NS 225 Practical Oceanography I (4 cr)
  • XAS NS 226 Practical Oceanography II (4 cr)
  • CAS NS 320 Ocean Science and Public Policy (3 cr)
  • CAS NS 321 Oceans in the Global Carbon Cycle (4 cr)
  • CAS NS 322 Maritime History and Culture (4 cr)
  • CAS NS 323 Marine Environmental History (4 cr)
  • XAS NS 324 Oceanographic Field Methods (3 cr)
  • XAS NS 325 Directed Oceanographic Research (4 cr)
  • CAS NS 450 Advanced Topics in Biological Oceanography (4 cr)
  • CAS NS 460 Advanced Ocean Policy Research (4 cr)

For course descriptions, see the Academics section on the SEA website.