Contact the Professor:2017_1215_BI569_LongCaye_TheAquarium_1469 (1)
John Finnerty

Course Description:

Tropical Marine Invertebrates explores the causes and consequences of animal biodiversity with a special focus on the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in Belize. You will come to understand the major patterns of animal evolution including (1) the origin of metazoan cell types and body plans, (2) the diversification of animal developmental programs, and (3) the radiation of major lineages. You will explore the influence of contemporary ecological forces on the assemblages of marine animals found in three key tropical habitats: seagrass, mangrove and coral reef. You will develop an understanding of these organisms’ natural history. You will produce “scientific deliverables” intended for multiple audiences, from original data destined for the peer-reviewed scientific literature to learning aids intended for broad public consumption.

Additional Considerations:

  • Course-specific Costs:
    • Students will need to reimburse the BU Marine Program for the cost of the flight to Belize (about $1000).
    • Students are responsible for transportation to and from Logan Airport on travel days.
    • All students traveling to Belize must purchase DAN insurance and the Guardian Level
    • All students must have a passport valid for at least 6 months past their return date.
  • Meals
    • Food and lodging are covered by the program while in Belize. Students will be responsible for purchasing any meals during travel days.
  • Schedule
    • ~7 Days in Boston: Mon-Fri / 10:00-12:00 & 1:00-4:00
    • ~13 Days in Belize
      • Mon-Sun / Daily Field work: ~8:30-11:30 am; 1:30-4:30 pm;
      • Daily Data Analysis & Talk Preparation: 7:30-9:30 pm
      • Location: Calabash Caye Field Station
    • 1 Day Wrap-Up in Boston
  • Required gear
    • Full-length 2mm/3mm wet suit, neoprene booties, fins, dive mask, snorkel, waterproof watch. Optional: hood, underwater camera.
  • Physical requirements
    • Up to 7 hours of snorkeling per day. Daily transit on small boats. Short hikes across level ground. Occasionally carrying class gear across a sandy beach. Class stays at a remote field station. You will be exposed to the elements (sun, rain, wind) and bugs (be prepared with bugspray).

    Training you will receive in BI569:

    THEORY: Fundamentals of animal evolution // animal development // trophic strategies of animals // seagrass ecology // mangrove ecology // coral reef ecology //

    SKILLS: species identification // statistical analysis // phylogenetic inference // digital photo and video processing // DNA barcoding // morphometrics // development of scientific graphs and figures // scientific presentation

    Course Objectives for 2020:

    —Data Collection & Analysis

    I. DNA barcoding in marine ecological research — identification of Belizean mangrove species by cytochrome oxidase and 18S rDNA sequences

    II. Environmental morphometrics of corals — comparison of growth and form in corals transplanted between mangrove and reef habitats

    III. Mangrove epibiont community ecology — species co-occurrences and biotic interactions on mangrove prop roots

    —Scientific Deliverables

    I. Class collaboration on A Species Key for Lagoons and Backreef Habitats of Turneffe Atoll

    II. Sole authorship of scientific captions for photos or videos on the BU Marine Program Media Library (

    III. Group collaboration on interactive video tutorial entitled A Virtual Habitat Guide for ______

    IV. Group collaboration on a scientific presentation based upon your group research project.

    Prior Class Publications, Learning Resources & Course Reviews are available here: