Campus News

Study Away programs harness science and wonder on Sapelo Island

Just down the coast from Savannah, Sapelo Island houses the University of Georgia Marine Institute, a world-renowned center for marine ecological research. Located within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, UGAMI is a living laboratory that offers uncommon access to coastal habitats, making it the perfect location to offer UGA’s flagship field study programs in marine sciences, the Marine Biology Spring Semester and Coastal Summer Semester.

Sapelo Island is a 16,500-acre subtropical barrier island off Georgia’s central coast (20 miles north of Brunswick and 50 miles south of Savannah). Accessible only by passenger ferry, Sapelo Island and the surrounding region is largely undeveloped. UGAMI is located on the southern tip of Sapelo Island, on the shore of Doboy Sound. Nearby natural areas include the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area.

Both Study Away programs are open to undergraduate and graduate students from any college or university pursuing a degree in biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, fisheries biology, wildlife biology, environmental science, marine sciences, oceanography or other related fields.

“Coastal Summer Semester offered me hands-on skills and knowledge that were not available to me at my home institution. I’m so glad I was able to participate even though I wasn’t a UGA student,” said Jamie Rogers, a biology major at Georgia Tech when she participated in the program. “What I learned and the connections I made on Sapelo were the most integral part of my college experience and helped me land both an internship and full-time job after graduation. Sapelo is still one of my favorite places on earth; it’s the adventure of a lifetime right here in Georgia.”

The programs, while based at UGAMI, will take frequent field trips to Sapelo Island’s salt marshes, tidal creeks, maritime forests and beaches; boat trips to the Duplin River, Doboy Sound and Atlantic Ocean; and excursions to Georgia’s other barrier islands including Jekyll, St. Simons, Cabretta, Black Beard, Skidaway and Tybee islands.

“At UGAMI, we work hard, and we play hard, often at the same time,” said Damon Gannon, assistant director for academics at UGAMI. “Field courses give students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom, and to actually do science, not just read about it in a textbook.”

A major emphasis of the program is to introduce students to field techniques in marine ecology. As such, approximately half of the instructional time will be spent in the marine habitats surrounding Sapelo Island. Studies will take place from shore and aboard the Research Vessel Spartina, as well as on UGAMI’s small boats.

“Before going to Sapelo, I had limited knowledge and experience with conducting research. There was still some doubt about what I wanted to pursue and what my future goals were going to be,” said Britney Peppers, a biology major at UGA. “The Coastal Summer Semester was such an eye-opening experience. I was fortunate to be able to conduct my own research while also learning from professors who were willing to support me throughout. The experience was life changing for me, and I hope other people get to experience Sapelo the same way I did.”

The 2021 Marine Biology Spring Semester will take place from Jan. 23 through April 30, 2021. Courses include marine biology and lab, ecology, field animal behavior and special topics in ecology, along with independent research options.

The 2021 Coastal Summer Semester will take place during Summer Short Session I, June 12 through July 10, 2021. Courses will include field study in oceanography and marine methods, undergraduate research in biology and independent study in oceanography and marine methods. The deadline to apply for summer 2021 is Feb. 15, 2021.