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Coral Reef Field Course

Module titleCoral Reef Field Course
Module codeBIO2081
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Professor Jamie Stevens (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Fancy learning the basic concepts of ecology through a field-based module in the Bahamas?  This field course, run on the beautiful desert island of San Salvador in The Bahamas, presents a fantastic opportunity to study ecology in a unique and exciting environment. The island is surrounded by coral reefs – many in excellent condition – and other associated habitats. During eight days in the field, you will have the opportunity to snorkel various patch reefs, a reef crest, sea-grass beds and mangroves. Off-shore sites are reached by boat; at these you may encounter a variety of turtles, sharks and rays in addition to typical Caribbean reef fish.

This module will be conducted in June, following the end of the second year exams. You will be expected to cover part of the cost of participating on the field course. Students will be required to contribute £1395 towards the cost of the module (this includes all flights, international transfers, accommodation and meals at the research centre). We aim to ensure the field course is carbon-neutral and students are encouraged to engage with a reputable carbon-offsetting programme to achieve this aim. You are expected to provide your own personal equipment for in-water activities (e.g. mask, snorkel and fins [all essential], short wetsuit [optional]). Places on this module are limited to 40.

Please note, the bulk of this module will be conducted in the field and in a remote location. All field data are collected by snorkelling. You should consider the physical demands of these aspects of the module carefully before embarking on it; see Accessibility Statement for full details

In the event of being unable to run the field course on location, a virtual workshop allowing students to gain experience of the many generic skills for analysis of field-derived data will be delivered as an alternative.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to introduce you to the field of coral reef ecology and that of the associated ecosystems (sea-grass and mangroves). The module is almost entirely field-based and is held at the Gerace Research Centre, University of The Bahamas, San Salvador, The Bahamas ( You will be introduced to fieldwork techniques in tropical marine ecology and will then carry out a series of research projects in a range of marine habitats. You will learn basic field survey techniques and identification of corals and associated reef fish communities, enabling you to understand the complexity of managing tropical coastal zones. You will undertake detailed statistical analysis of your data, including ANOVA. The module will also develop your skills in sourcing and interpreting scientific literature, analysing experimental results and communicating facets of tropical marine science. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain the functioning of coral reefs and associated habitats
  • 2. Describe basic field survey techniques and designing experiments for studying coral reefs and associated habitats
  • 3. Gather basic survey data in coral reefs and associated habitats

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of organismal biology and ecology with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles
  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a subdiscipline of the biosciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation and enquiry within the biosciences

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently by written means in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 9. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 10. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 11. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Before the field trip you will attend seminars detailing the logistics and administration of the course, identification of key coral reef organisms (fish, coral, algae) and a pool session to practice snorkelling techniques. You will take a key species identification test before the trip. During the field course lectures will introduce reef ecology; reef, sea-grass and mangrove survey techniques; experimental design; data interpretation and analysis; threats to reef health and coastal zone management. Fieldwork will include orientation to the study area and practice identifying key coral reef organisms and using simple survey techniques (including snorkelling). Targeted research projects will be spent on patch reefs, sea-grass beds and mangroves, all of which will involve off-shore snorkelling.

Accessibility Statement and further information

This field course will be delivered via a 9-day field trip to a research centre in The Bahamas at the end of the academic year (Term 3) and by a series of lectures, an MCQ test and a pool-based workshop delivered in Exeter prior to the field trip.  Field study sites (coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove beds) are accessed by snorkelling.  Sites are mostly shored-based (snorkelling out from a beach), though at least one site is accessed by boat. Some sites require students to be in the water for up to 1.5 hours. Access to beaches/shore sites, is by walking; paths are generally rough tracks through scrub bush, although there may be some small inclines and rough ground. Walking will be up to 2 miles, though most sites away from the field centre are reached using field centre transport – students then walk from the vehicles down to the beach via aforementioned tracks and trails. Occasionally, entry to the water will require crossing rougher ground, including fossil coral formations (which can be sharp) and sand dunes. Many elements (all fieldwork) will be outside and students should wear suitable protection from the sun, both in the water (rash vest) and on land, with stout footwear. Students are expected to provide their own basic snorkelling equipment (mask, fins, snorkel).  Students may be expected to help carry some small items of communal field equipment (cameras, tapes and quadrats), together with their own field notebook, pen, snorkelling kit and light provisions (freshwater, sun screen). Food and drink for all excursions will be provided. All transport costs are included in the cost of the trip.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4Pre-field course introductory lecture to prepare students academically and practically for the course
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Pre-field course snorkelling check and kit try-out session
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11-hour key reef organisms identification test
Scheduled Learning an54Field-based tutoring
Guided Independent Study90Private study and assessment preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
MPA Planning Exercise3 hours5, 7, 9-11Assessed via talk
Research Talk10 minutes5, 7, 9-11Oral feedback on talk
Field Notebook Keeping15 minutes1-3, 5, 7, 10Oral feedback on notebook

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written test (fish, coral, algae identification) before field trip: short answer and MCQ test 101 hour1-3Oral/written
One report on the field experiments, including relevant statistical analysis (minimum of 2 weeks from end of June to submit)452000 words (comprising 1000 text, plus figures, figure legends, tables and abstract 1-11Written
Scientific poster (minimum of 2 weeks from end of June to submit)45(A0, A1) (1000 words) AllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written test (fish, coral, algae identification): short answer and MCQ testShort answer and MCQ test 1-3May-June Ref/Def
ReportReport1-11August Ref/Def
PosterPoster1-11August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to re-submit the report and/or poster and/or sit another test. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • There is no single textbook appropriate for this module: a range of scientific papers and books will be made available to students in the field. However, obtaining the Caribbean Reef Identification Set (Humann P and Deloach N (2002) Reef Set, New World Publications ISBN: 1878348337) will help in learning to identify fish, coral and algal species for the written identification test and in the field. Note that the three books can be purchased separately and the Reef Fish book should be the highest priority.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ecology, field course, coral reef, ecosystems, habitats, reef fish communities

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1336 Ecology

Module co-requisites

BIO2074 Marine Biology

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date