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Marine Biology in Roatan

Marine Biology in Roatan
Explore coral reefs and marine ecology and diversity over winter break.
Roatan Island, Honduras
Language of Instruction: 
Winter Break
Academic Disciplines: 
Program Type: 
Open to non-KU Students
Faculty Led
  • Scuba dive and snorkel on the coral reefs to explore the ecology and diversity
  • Daily lectures in coral reef and general marine biology
  • Night dives and snorkeling to observe bioluminescence
Program Summary: 

Students in this 2-credit field course will have the opportunity to dive (literally and figuratively) into the world of marine biology and coral reef ecology by exploring the ecology and diversity of marine organisms on the island of Roatan. The course is expected to consist of a daily lecture on various marine topics, two scuba dives from boats on most days, occasional explorations of intertidal zones (rocky and sandy shores) and subtidal grass beds and daily field trip discussions.


Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras located in the Caribbean Sea approximately 35 miles north of mainland Honduras. The island is located on an exposed ancient coral reef that is the second largest barrier reef in the world. The island has a tropical climate and the average range of air temperature in January of 73-84 degrees Fahrenheit and a narrow water temperature range of 79-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many days in January have short rains followed by bright sun.

Academic Information: 

Two hours of academic credit will be granted for the Spring 2021 semester by the University of Kansas upon successful completion 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 count as a seminar/topics course credit. Grades will be based on a comprehensive and individually written field trip report due two weeks after the end of the program. 

There will be at least two required meetings (virtual or in-person to be determined) during the Fall semester to discuss course requirements, the program in Roatan, and recommended items to take.

The lectures on the program will introduce students to such topics as: general structure and ecological function of diverse marine environments, structure and formation of coral reefs, community ecology on coral reefs (algae, plants, invertebrates, fishes, and other vertebrates), dolphin biology, and threats to coral reefs. Lectures will be given by Professor Rivers.


The group will stay at CoCo View Resort in double or triple occupancy. Three meals per day will be provided at the resort.  

Life Abroad: 

The group will participate in up to two dives per day (Sunday-Friday) from a dive boat at various locations around the island. Most of these dives will not exceed about sixty feet in depth. An additional, optional night dive is also planned. Additionally, there is unlimited shore diving, snorkeling, and recreational swimming opportunities.

The dive operations provide students with scuba tanks, weights, and belts. All other gear can be rented on the island, but students should plan on taking their own fitted mask and snorkel at the minimum. Students should reserve their necessary dive gear through Dockside Dive Center. Although water temperatures average 79-80 degrees Fahrenheit, multiple dives and any rainy weather can lower core body temperature. Therefore, it is recommended to either bring or rent a short or long wetsuit. Students will be required to follow standard scuba diving safety procedures as detailed in all scuba open water diving certification courses.


Open to undergraduate and graduate students from accredited U.S. colleges or universities who have a minimum 2.5 GPA. Participants need to be good swimmers and must be scuba certified. For those students who are not already scuba certified, the best time to do so is before October 1 when the Kansas water temperature is warmer. Students in all majors are welcome; and although no course pre-requisites are required, a general organismal biology or ecology course is useful.

Further Reading: 

Check out this video of the Marine Biology Roatan program from the winter break 2020 term.

Program Faculty: 

Professor Trevor Rivers (trivers@ku.edu) from the Undergraduate Biology Program will lead the program. He has been performing research in the Caribbean, including Roatan, since 2001, where he studies the bioluminescence and behavior of marine organisms. 


Spring 2021 programs now accepting applications !

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