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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: 
  • Scuba dive and snorkel on the coral reefs to explore the ecology and diversity
  • Daily lectures in coral reef and general marine biology
  • Scheduled opportunity to swim with dolphins
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 in conjunction with the Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences (RIMS). 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, daily field trip discussions, and an opportunity to swim with dolphins.


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. The group will work with the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS), which regularly hosts university groups on the island and understands the needs of new divers.

Academic Information: 

Two hours of academic credit will be granted for the Spring 2018 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 one required meeting on the Lawrence campus in 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 Thorp and occasionally the RIMS staff on selected topics.


The group will stay at Anthony’s Key Resort in double or triple occupancy bungalows. 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. At some point during the week, all students will have the opportunity to swim and snorkel with the resort’s semi-wild marine dolphins, which typically make physical contact with swimmers. Additionally, there is unlimited shore diving, snorkeling, and recreational swimming opportunities around Anthony’s Key in various types of marine habitat immediately adjacent to the resort. An evening cook-out on the island is also scheduled, weather permitting.  

The Roatan Museum is housed in the RIMS facility and created in conjunction with the Honduran Institute of Anthropology. It houses artifacts, murals, maps and documents to show the history and culture of the Bay Islands. Students are encouraged to visit the museum.

The dive operations at RIMS and Anthony’s Key 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. 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 only snorkeling will still need a mask, snorkel, fins, and 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 it is very highly recommended that they are 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. Scuba certified students will have priority if enrollment is limited. Students in all majors are welcome; and although no course pre-requisites are required, a general organismal biology or ecology course is useful.

Program Faculty: 

Professor James H. Thorp is a tenured faculty member of 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 Roatan, Bonaire, Belize, and most recently Dominica. For more information on the program, contact Professor Thorp at thorp@ku.edu.


Deadlines Extended for Summer, Fall and Academic Year Programs.

See list of programs below:

Study Abroad Financial Advising

The Office of Study Abroad has weekly 'You Can Afford to Study Abroad' Financial aid and Scholarship Info Sessions/Open Meetings on Wednesday afternoons from 4:00-5:00 pm and Thursday afternoons from 12:30-1:30 pm in room 203 Lippincott Hall.  For those that can not attend the weekly Info Sessions, we also offer individualized study abroad financial planning as well as financial aid and scholarship advising for students.  Please visit 108 Lippincott Hall or call 785-864-3742 to set up an appointment.

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