Learn to measure blue carbon and marine biodiversity in the coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and seagrass beds of the tropical Pacific and the Caribbean.
Examine the emerging field of blue carbon and its role in climate change.
Blue carbon is the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems—mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses—which sequester and store large quantities of blue carbon in plants and sediment, thus decreasing the effects of global warming.
Spend six weeks in the field, learning about coastal ecosystems and more.
Divide your time between the Pacific and Caribbean, studying carbon accumulation and preservation and exploring marine biodiversity. You’ll learn about marine organisms, blue carbon, and Panama’s ecosystems and species, which are among the most threatened on the planet. After completing the first phase of the program, you will choose a previously visited region in which to conduct your own research.
Snorkel in one of the top 10 diving sites in the world while conducting research on coral reefs and seagrass beds.
The program presents you with amazing opportunities to study marine ecology in spectacular settings. Conduct research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Bocas de Toro, known for the San San Pond Sak UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and International RAMSAR site. Explore Pacific mangroves and coral reefs on Coiba Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest island in Mesoamerica. Study Caribbean seagrass beds and coral reefs in Guna Yala, Latin America’s first autonomous indigenous territory.
Appreciate the vital role coastal ecosystems play in climate change mitigation.
You’ll witness marine ecosystem connectivity and the relevance of marine organism interdependence in the context of climate change. Then you’ll learn how blue carbon ecosystems not only provide key carbon reserves but also shelter coastal populations from floods and protect coastal waters from pollutants.
Contribute to ongoing research by completing a two-week independent research project.
For the final part of the program, you will return to Guna Yala, Bocas del Toro, or Coiba Island to engage in independent field research on blue carbon, marine organism diversity, coral reefs, seagrass beds, or a related topic of interest to you. You will use scientific methodologies, apply field research techniques, gather and analyze data, and present your research results.
Critical Global Issue of Study
Climate | Environment
Previous college-level coursework and/or other preparation in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. There is no language prerequisite. You will spend most of the time in the water and must be able to swim well.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Marine organism diversity across marine and coastal ecosystems
- Wetland, mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef interdependence and functional diversity
- The emerging field of blue carbon and its relevance and integral role in the context of climate change
- Methods and methodology for measuring blue carbon and marine organism biodiversity
- The role of wetland, mangrove, coral reef, and seagrass bed ecosystems in the carbon process, along with needs of and threats to each ecosystem
The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
- Marine Ecology and Blue Carbon Conservation in the Pacific and Caribbean – syllabus
- (ENVI3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Through a comparative approach, this course explores the emerging field of blue carbon conservation and the ecology and the organismal biodiversity of four major ecosystem types (wetlands, mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs). At three locations, two in the Caribbean and one in the Pacific, students participate in classroom lectures and engage in extensive field study and practice. Students apply ecological research techniques, including underwater transects and quadrats, ocean floor coring, underwater vegetation productivity, water turbidity assessment, and carbon stock and accumulation surveys. The course takes place on Coiba Island, Bocas del Toro Island, and the Guna Yala Comarca.
- Marine Ecology and Blue Carbon Field Project – syllabus
- (ENVI3060 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- This course offers students the opportunity to carry out field research on a topic related to the program content. Students choose from pre-planned projects on specific topics related to marine ecology, biodiversity, and blue carbon. Pre-planned projects form part of larger, ongoing research endeavors in the area and are located at the program field sites (Bocas del Toro, Coiba Island, and Guna Yala). After completing the first phase of the program, students return to the program sites independently and engage in research. Students are guided by project advisors during their research.
Program in a minute-ish
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Program orientation begins in Bocas del Toro, where you will learn the basics of carbon chemistry, the carbon cycle, and ocean carbon flows, as well as the importance of coastal ecosystems and the potential role of marine ecosystems in mitigating climate change.
San San Pond Sak Wetlands UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and International RAMSAR Site, Bocas de Toro, Caribbean
Begin extensive field exploration in the Bocas de Toro region at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which has a research and educational site on Isla Colón, giving scientists and students access to an astounding variety of marine life in untouched forests, a coastal lagoon system, and multiple reefs and islands. Study coastal wetland ecosystems in a complex setting that includes fisheries, tourism, and large populations of endangered marine wildlife. In the San San Pond Sak wetlands, you will learn about wetland ecology and how to measure blue carbon stocks in four unique habitats, including tropical peatlands, orey (Campnosperma panamensis) forests, mangroves, and manatee grass beds.
Coiba Island UNESCO World Heritage Site – Pacific Ocean Mangroves and Coral Reefs
Coiba Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of four key sites in the Eastern Tropical Seascape Biological Corridor and the largest island in Mesoamerica. It is also one of the top 10 diving sites in the world. Here, you will explore the role mangroves play in marine organism reproductive cycles and witness the breathtaking biodiversity of coral reefs, which house 30 percent of marine biodiversity worldwide on only .01 percent of the ocean floor. Learn about the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems, especially factors like fluctuating ocean temperatures, acidification, and coral reef calcification.
Comarca Guna Yala – Caribbean Coral Reefs and Seagrass Beds
In Guna Yala, you will conduct comparative studies of the coral reef ecosystems and organism diversity of the Caribbean and the Pacific. Guna Yala, the first indigenous territory to be granted autonomous rule in Latin America (in 1925), is considered one of the best-conserved coral reef systems in the Caribbean due to its isolation, low population pressure, and prohibition of scuba diving, although these conditions are beginning to change. You will study and snorkel with a wide variety of marine creatures and explore seagrass beds and the key role they play in sustaining ocean life. Among the fastest growing plants on Earth, seagrasses are key to blue carbon stocks and storage.
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Alyson Dagang, PhD, Academic Director
A California native, Alyson completed her BA in international development with an emphasis in Latin American studies at American University in Washington, DC, and her PhD in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Her research, carried out with local farmers, examined biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of wood and fruit tree repopulation of grazed pastures in central Panama. She has served as SIT Study Abroad associate academic dean for Latin America. Alyson was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Panamanian province of Panama Oeste. She has worked on projects focused on gender, agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, community development, environmental education, forestry, and conservation. She is also the academic director for SIT’s semester-long ecology program in Panama.
Omar López, PhD
Omar holds a PhD and an MSc in biology from the University of Utah and a BSc in botany from the University of Panama. He is the principle investigator for a nationwide inventory of alien plant species across Panama, which is a collaboration between Panama’s Ministry of the Environment and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Omar has worked throughout the United States as a guest lecturer and researcher. He also has worked in cross-cultural contexts as a researcher, advisor, and lecturer.
Juan Maté, PhD
Juan completed his doctorate in marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami and has since been involved in research projects both independently and with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where he is a full-time field scientist. His interactive, dynamic, and visual field-based teaching style complements his theoretic, laboratory, and field experiences.
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
- Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in marine ecology and blue carbon conservation
- All educational excursions and fieldwork
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: $1,750
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period. Students will stay at research stations, small hostels, and dormitories. This includes during orientation, on all excursions, and during the Marine Ecology and Blue Carbon Field Project.
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend.
Estimated Additional Costs:
Airfare to Program Site
Airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Books & Supplies: $ 50
International Phone: Each student must bring a smart phone that is able to accept a local SIM card with them to their program, or they must purchase a smart phone locally.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.
In order to make study abroad more accessible, SIT's partner colleges and universities may charge home school tuition fees for their students participating on an SIT Study Abroad program. If your institution has an agreement with SIT and charges fees different from those assessed by SIT, please contact your study abroad advisor for more details. The SIT published price is the cost to direct enroll in the SIT program. Tuition fees may vary for students based on your home college's or university's billing policies with SIT.