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Azores Field Course

Module titleAzores Field Course
Module codeBIO3423
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Christopher Laing (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This field course has been designed to complement the taught components of years one and two, expose you to a fantastic array of marine life and give you first-hand experience of research in the pelagic regions of the Atlantic. The Azores are an under-explored marine paradise that were formed by volcanic activity along the Mid Atlantic Ridge as recently as 250,000 years ago (Pico island). Their location, 1000 miles off the coast of Portugal, mean they are a magnet for migrating and pelagic species alike. Amazingly, 27 species of cetacean including 5 species of dolphin, large aggregations of sperm whales and the largest mammal in the world, the blue whale are all visitors to the Azores.

Our learning on this field course will be delivered on boats, in laboratories and in learning space owned and operated by the University of the Azores who are collaborators on the trip. Exeter staff will guide content but you will also work with and be taught by, experts in Azorean marine biology from the host University during the trip. We will visit three islands: São Miguel, Faial and Flores with each being the location of key themes of the field course. You will gain first-hand experience of the skills required for a career in marine biology or field-based biology including bathymetric mapping of the sea floor, stock assessment of commercial fish populations, cetacean monitoring, fieldwork in biosphere habitats, island biogeography and marine plastic collection and quantification.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, eg. boat boots (steel toe-capped), wetsuit/snorkelling equipment, walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. You may incur additional costs dependent upon the specific demands of the research project chosen. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop your scientific knowledge and understanding of marine biology and conservation in a location that offers a window into of the challenges and future that our oceans face. We will cover:

  • Oceanography of the Azores
  • Observation, data collection, discussion sessions and data synthesis based on a range of activities conducted on land and in water,
  • Experimental design
  • Research projects on an aspect of either oceanography, commercial fisheries, marine plastics or cetacean monitoring,
  • Communicating science to a wide audience,
  • Acquiring skills and experience required to pursue a career in marine biology or conservation.

The skills you gain from fieldwork, teamwork, working with unfamiliar biodiversity, and problem-solving, will all stand you in good stead for careers in any scientific sector by developing or enhancing your employability. Transferrable skills to other sectors include:

  • Problem-solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling),
  • Time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group),
  • Collaboration (taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work),
  • Self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources)

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by Exeter staff such as oceanography, island biogeography and benthic marine invertebrates as well as those specific to the Azores offered by local researchers. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the mini research projects and sourcing material for your essay and subsequent discussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a broad understanding of Atlantic ocean functioning including its currents, commercial fisheries and pollution
  • 2. Observe species within the sublittoral zone of a volcanic seamount
  • 3. Discuss commercial fishery stock assessment in the Atlantic ocean

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 9. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 10. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 13. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 14. 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

Preparatory lectures in terms 2 and 3.

A typical field course will take place in early September and will be based on two Islands of the Azorean archipelago: Faial and Flores. The order in which we visit these islands will vary from year to year but the time spent on each and activities studied will be broadly similar year-to-year.

The majority of the trip (approximately 8 days) will be spent on Faial Island. From here you will conduct a day of boat work on the R/V Arquipélago, a 25m research vessel equipped with sonar, ROV, CTD and dry laboratory. Whale-watching, snorkelling trips and laboratory work for research projects will also be based on Faial and you will receive scheduled learning activities on the University of the Azores campus facilities here. A small amount of time will be spent on Flores, which is a UNESCO designated biosphere. This is a unique and special location to study island biogeography and you will take guided walks and have field biology techniques demonstrated by staff.

At each of these locations you will be involved in scheduled activities e.g. lectures from staff, professional researchers and in-country conservation NGO personnel, practical sessions on sampling methods and collecting data, and discussion sessions on relevant topics. As part of your involvement in the module you will undertake a small research project, under the guidance of academic staff, in order for you to implement all that you have learned.

On return to the UK you will individually produce a poster based on the results of one of the activities we investigated on Faial or Flores. You will present posters to your colleagues in the department approximately three weeks after your return.

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 teaching2Pre-field course lectures to prepare you academically and practically for the course
Scheduled learning and teaching103Field-based tutoring from members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in and University of the Azores
Scheduled learning and teaching5Discussions led by in-country conservation experts (researchers and NGO staff)
Guided independent study190Additional reading and research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the field courseOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Seminars and discussionsContinuous assessment during the field courseAllOral

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
Pre-field course essay201500 words1, 4-5, 8-14Feedback sheet
On-field course group experimental design exercise1030 minutes4-14Feedback sheet
Post-field course project poster30A3 poster1-11Feedback sheet
Essay examination401 hour1-5, 8-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Pre-field course essayEssay1, 4-5, 8-14August assessment period
On-field group experimental design exerciseIndividual experimental design exercise4-14August assessment period
Post-field course project posterPost-field course project poster1-11August assessment period
Essay examinationEssay examination1-5, 8-11August assessment period

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 sit a further examination and/or re-submit a further essay and/or poster. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Sarmiento (Ed) (2017) Ocean Biogeochemical dynamics
  • Pickard (2013) Descriptive Physical Oceanography: An Introduction
  • Probert (2017) Marine Conservation. Cambridge
  • Whittaker (2007) Island Biogeography: ecology, evolution and conservation

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Azores, BIO3423, marine biology, cetacean monitoring, marine plastics, oceanography

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO2426 Analysis of Biological Data

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date