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This course is offered through Study Abroad in May as “UNC Coral Reef Ecology in the Caribbean”. Apply Now!

Dates: May 15 – May 31, 2024 (on St. John May 18 – 27)

Place: St. John, USVI


This is a three-hour class that is a combination of lecture, reading of primary material and experiential learning. The course will explore key physical and chemical characteristics of the coral reef environment, topics in coral reef ecology, and strategies available for protecting and managing the reef environment. The course will also familiarize students with the identification of the principal fishes, creatures, and corals found in the Caribbean.

Starting in the Spring of 2013, the students began to research and write a comprehensive Wiki about coral reefs called Coral Digest: It is a work in progress, but is now used as the class textbook. It is also our hope that the general public will find it to be a useful resource.

The Institute for the Environment (IE) and the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program (E3P) place a strong emphasis on field-based learning. IE runs a number of semester-long field site programs, so this is intended at one level to be an introduction to field based learning, and we hope students will consider engaging in further such experiences in the future.

Finally, we find it important to nurture a strong sense of community amongst our students, so we hope this experience will help build strong bonds of camaraderie and contribute to the intellectual environment within IE.

Goals and Learning Outcomes

  • Understanding the basic ecological processes and roles of coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass beds
  • Identifying important Caribbean reef organisms
  • Exploring the relationship between reef organisms and benthic habitat
  • Educating students about the various threats to coral reefs around the world and exploring management options that can offer some protection to coral reef communities.

Apply now!

What is the Trip Like?

Note that the following video is from 2017, when the class was a 1-credit offering in the spring semester and before the campground upgrades.

What’s it Like to Snorkel in St. John?