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Timing: January – middle of June
Application Deadline: Mid September
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The University of North Carolina’s Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site offer Carolina undergraduates an unparalleled opportunity to explore the wonders of the diverse ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands and the Ecuadorian mainland that make this such an environmentally and historically significant region.

The field site, made possible by a unique partnership between UNC and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), are based at USFQ’s Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristobal, one of the Galapagos Islands. Free of humans and predators for almost all of their history, these “Enchanted Islands” have developed some of the most unique life forms on the planet, highly adapted to their surroundings and originally living in ecological isolation. Charles Darwin’s famous visit in 1835 and his subsequent development of the theory of natural selection brought international attention to the islands. Since then, the importance of the islands has been recognized by a series of protections and designations, including formation of the Galapagos National Park, designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, and creation of a Galapagos Marine Reserve. Today, the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon and highland regions of Ecuador are facing rapid changes and growing crises as increases in tourist and residential populations place new stresses on the environment.

Students at the Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site follow an intensive ecology curriculum that includes courses from the natural and social sciences and combines classroom, field and lab learning and a research methodology class as they explore the beautiful, ecologically diverse Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador.

Students will be based at the USFQ’s GAIAS campus on Isla San Cristobal in the Galapagos and, depending on their interests and coursework, also spend time at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and USFQ’s Paluguillo Parimo campus in the Ecuadorian Andean highlands. Students will take five intensive 3-credit courses in three separate tracks, all taught in three-week modules. Students will select a track upon registration for the program.

Track: Marine Science
Courses include:

  • Techniques of Marine Research
  • Marine Life
  • Introduction to Marine Ecosystems
  • Marine Conservation Biology
  • Human Ecology and Maritime Communities

Track: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
Courses include:

  • Tropical Ecology
  • Native and Introduced Plants of the Galapagos
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Introduction to Marine Ecosystems
  • Human Ecology and Maritime Communities

Track: People, Politics and the Environment
Courses include:

  • Wildlife Conservation Management
  • Health and the Environment
  • Political Ecology
  • Human Ecology and Maritime Communities
  • Strategic Planning for Natural Resource Management

Additionally students usually have the option to swap out the second course from each track with a Geology course in Vulcanology. The Geology Course spends its time in the field on the mainland and on the Island of Isabella in the Galapagos.

The academic program includes a four-day cruise in the Galapagos Archipelago and field trips to a variety of sites on the Ecuadorian mainland and in the Galapagos, with ample opportunities to meet fishermen, resource managers, members of indigenous communities and local scientists involved in local conservation and ecological issues. Upon completing GAIAS coursework, UNC students will receive 15 credit hours of transfer equivalency credit.

Summer Research
Following this coursework, Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site students will engage in a six-week research project, working directly with UNC-Chapel Hill faculty or graduate students, or USFQ faculty. Students will pursue their research at one of three USFQ field stations of their choice: Galapagos Science Center, Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon, or Paluguillo Paramo in the Andean highlands. At the end of the six weeks, students will participate in a three-day summary session, where they will present their research to fellow students and to the director of the Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site. For their research, students will receive three (3) hours of UNC-Chapel Hill graded credit as ENST 395, Research in Environmental Science and Studies for Undergraduates.


The Universidad San Francisco de Quito is Ecuador’s premier private, non-profit liberal arts university. The Galapagos Science Center was established by USFQ in 2002 as an academic and research campus for international students as well as students from the Galapagos and the Ecuadorian mainland. It is the site of a new Galapagos Science Center jointly constructed by Carolina and USFQ. Students will also spend time at USFQ’s Tiputini Biodiversity Station, located in the pristine Ecuadorian Amazon rainforests and recognized as one of the best places in the world to study biodiversity, and the USFQ’s Paluguillo Paramo campus on the eastern slopes of the Andes, a remote area with a wide range of flora and fauna, where growing environmental pressures threaten the ecosystem as well as the water supply of nearby Quito.

An unforgettable living and learning experience
After orientation and initial classes in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, and field trips on the Ecuadorian mainland, students will travel to Isla San Cristobal where Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Science Center, USFQ’s San Cristobal newest teaching facility, is located right on the water at Playa Mann, making some class fieldwork trips an easy stroll from the classroom. Students often study on the balcony overlooking Playa Mann, or on the beach among the sea lions and marine iguanas.

On San Cristobal, students will be housed with host families; on field trips they will stay at local hotels. Spectacular hiking, swimming, snorkeling and other recreational activities abound, as well as ample opportunities to enjoy the culture and cuisine of this fascinating, historically and ecologically significant region.

For more information about the Galapagos Summer Program and the Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site, please contact Institute for the Environment Associate Director for Education Greg Gangi, at or (919) 962-9804.

Like the other four residential field sites and programs offered by the UNC Institute for the Environment and its partner institutions, the Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site is¬†administered by UNC’s Study Abroad Office, in partnership with the UNC Center for Galapagos Studies.

UNC Ecuador/Galapagos Field Site Promo – Tiputini Biodiversity Station by Ethan Miller, a student at the field site.

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