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Marine Biology in Bonaire

Marine Biology in Bonaire
Study marine ecology and explore the diversity of coral reefs over winter break.
Kralendijk, Bonaire
Language of Instruction: 
Winter Break
Academic Disciplines: 
-Open to All Majors
Graduate Courses
Program Type: 
  • Short lectures, discussion groups, and excursions on land complement the marine field trips
  • Scuba drive on a fringing coral reef, snorkel in a mangrove lagoon, explore grass beds and intertidal areas, and more
  • Students will stay in bungalows at Captain Don's Habitat
Program Summary: 

Students in this 2-credit field course will scuba dive into the undersea world of coral reefs and study marine biology by exploring the ecology and diversity of marine organisms in the National Marine Park on the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire. The course is expected to consist of daily lecture on various marine topics, approximately two boat dives per day, optional night and shore dives, an excursion to a mangrove lagoon to snorkel, and an excursion to explore the terrestrial ecology of the semi-arid island, including its population of flamingoes. 



Bonaire is a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands and was formerly part of the Dutch Antilles, along with the adjacent islands of Aruba and Curacao. It is located about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela and outside of the hurricane alley. In January, the average air temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the monthly rainfall is about two inches, and the water temperature is about 81 degrees. Terrestrial vegetation is dominated by cacti and other desert plants. 


Academic Information: 

Two hours of academic credit will be granted for the Spring 2019 semester by the University of Kansas upon successful completion of the program. Grades will be based on a comprehensive and individually written field trip notebook/report due approximately two weeks after the end of the program. Undergraduate students will enroll in BIOL 418: Laboratory in: Marine Biology, which will count as a lab credit. Graduate students will enroll in BIOL 701: Laboratory in Marine Biology, which will be count as a seminar/topics course credit.

There will be at least one required meeting on the Lawrence campus before the program to discuss course requirements, the program in Bonaire, and recommended items to take. In addition, students are welcome to contact Professor Thorp during the semester to discuss the program and course.

Course lectures by Professor Thorp will introduce students to such topics as the general structure and ecological function of marine environments (from estuaries to the deep sea), the structure, formation, and functioning of coral reefs, the ecology of reef organisms (vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and algae), and the modern threats to coral reefs. 



The group will stay at Captain Don's Habitat in double or triple occupancy bungalow rooms. Three meals per day with a variety of options will be provided at the resort. 

Life Abroad: 

The group will participate in approximately two boat dives per day (Sunday-Friday) at various locations on the leeward side of Bonaire. Most of the dives will be during daytime and will generally not exceed depths of 60 to 70 feet. An optional deeper wreck dive (of about 100 feet) and night dive later in the week are possible. All internationally recognized safe diving guidelines must be followed. 

A typical day will include scuba dives, an hour of course lecture, and a pre-dinner review of what the group observed diving. Students will have free time during the afternoons and can elect to snorkel. One day the group will tour the island to visit sites of historical significance, explore mangrove wetlands, and visit the city of Kralendijk. 



Open to undergraduate and graduate students from accredited U.S. colleges or universities who have a minimum 2.5 GPA. Participants need to be confident swimmers. Priority will be given to students who have obtained open water scuba certification by January 2019. Because the certification includes open water training, it is recommended that students obtain the scuba license before local U.S. waters get too cold. Students are required to have their own dive mask, snorkel, and fins; other equiptment can be rented. Feel free to contact Professor Thorp about required and optional equipment. Students in all majors are welcome; although no course pre-requisites are required, a general ecology course is useful.


Program Faculty: 

Professor James H. Thorp is a tenured, full professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and is a Senior Scientist in KU's Kansas Biological Survey. He has led KU Marine Biology programs to Belize, Bonaire, Dominica, and Roatan. He also teaches campus courses in marine biology and freshwater ecology. 


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