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  • Locations: Sapelo Island, GA, United States;
  • Program Terms: Spring
  • Homepage: Click to visit
  • Cost of Attendance Sheets: Spring
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Dates / Deadlines:

There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Program Category: UGA Domestic Click here for a definition of this term Open to non-UGA students: Yes
Click here for a definition of this term Number of Student Participants: 21-40 students Classes With: U.S. Students, UGA Students
Taught By: UGA/U.S. Professor(s) College/School: Franklin
Academic Area: Biological Science, Biology, Ecology, Fisheries and Wildlife, Integrative Conservation and Ecology, Marine Sciences, Natural Resources, STEM, Water and Soil Resources Language Program: No
Language of Instruction: English Minimum number of credit hours: 14
Maximum number of credit hours: 17 Work Opportunity: No
Volunteer Opportunity: No Scholarship Availability: Yes
Housing Location: Off-Campus
Program Description:


Marine Biology Spring Semester at the UGA Marine Institute

A Note on COVID-19 and Student Safety

At the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), we take student health and safety very seriously.  We exercise reasonable precautions to provide our students a rich and meaningful academic experience in a safe environment.  UGAMI is on Sapelo Island, which is one of the largest islands on the coast of Georgia.  Located 5 miles from the mainland and only accessible by boat, none of Sapelo Island’s neighboring islands are inhabited.  The majority of the island’s land area is maintained as wildlife habitat and research reserve.  Access to Sapelo is tightly controlled by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. These features make UGAMI conducive for social distancing.  As a field-based academic program, many of the activities associated with the Marine Biology Spring Semester take place outdoors, which can limit the spread of the virus.  If necessary, students and faculty taking part in the Marine Biology Spring Semester can form a social pod or bubble.

It is our firm belief that UGAMI is one of the safest places for students to be in Georgia during a pandemic.  This degree of safety minimizes the likelihood of having to switch our classes to an online format. And since Sapelo Island is in Georgia, there is no risk of international travel restrictions impacting the program for students arriving from within the U.S.  

UGAMI Campus on Sapelo Island.
Marine Biology Spring Semester

The Marine Biology Spring Semester offers immersive, field-based learning experiences in marine biology at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI) on Sapelo Island. The program is 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. Students take up to 17 credit hours of formal coursework in marine biology and ecology, and have an opportunity to conduct independent research under the guidance of a faculty member.  Students from any undergraduate or graduate institution are welcome in this program.

This field program provides students the opportunity to explore the diverse range of habitats along Georgia’s coast and the organisms found there. The program's hands-on, experiential approach emphasizes development of skills in natural history, experimental design, observation, data collection, analysis, and communication. The ultimate goal of the program is to help each student develop a more complete understanding of marine habitats, and of the breadth of research questions pursued by professional marine biologists.

As a residential field program, students and faculty get to know one-another outside of the classroom and often develop lasting relationships that benefit students as they embark on their careers. UGAMI offers life-changing experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. The essence of the UGAMI student experience is characterized by:
  • Immersion – Complete immersion in field-based academic studies.
  • Mentorship – Close mentorship by faculty who are experts in their fields of study.
  • Engagement – Being part of an engaged, supportive community of scholars.
This study away program is relatively affordable because it does not require international air travel, visas, additional vaccinations, travel insurance, etc.

Sunrise at Sapelo Island.
Program Location

UGA’s Marine Biology Spring Semester takes place at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), on Sapelo Island. UGAMI is a world-renowned center for marine ecological research that attracts scientists and students from around the globe. Students at UGAMI find a vibrant, collegial community of scholars from multiple institutions and fields of study who value and inspire curiosity about the natural world. 

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. The R.J. Reynolds Wildlife Management Area and the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve comprise most of Sapelo Island’s land area. UGAMI is located on the southern tip of Sapelo Island, on the shore of Doboy Sound and within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. Nearby natural areas include the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area. Georgia’s central coast boasts some of the most pristine estuaries in the lower 48 states of the U.S. Sapelo Island is also the closest point of land to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

UGAMI is a marine research station that supports the scientific investigations and teaching of faculty from many institutions. The mission of the UGA Marine Institute (UGAMI) is to provide exceptional opportunities for research and university-level education in coastal ecosystems. Located within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, UGAMI is a living laboratory that offers uncommon access to coastal habitats, including the nearshore ocean, estuarine sounds, salt marshes, tidal creeks, beaches, dunes, maritime forests, and freshwater wetlands. Long-term ecological monitoring data, together with the results from hundreds of published research papers, make UGAMI a treasured field destination for scientists and students.

UGAMI has been at the forefront of estuarine and marine ecology for seven decades. Faculty and students at UGAMI study marine ecology at the molecular, organismal, population, community, and ecosystem levels. UGAMI is the home base of the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) – Long Term Ecological Research program, which is part of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research network. The GCE is one of the largest ecological research programs in the southeastern United States.

Sapelo Island’s historic Hog Hammock community is one of the last remaining Gullah/Geechee communities. The neighboring town of Darien, on the mainland, is home to Georgia’s largest commercial fishing fleet. Thus, Sapelo Island and the surrounding region is both culturally and ecologically significant.

The program is based at UGAMI and 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 van excursions to Georgia's other barrier islands including Jekyll, St. Simons, Cabretta, Black Beard, Skidaway, and Tybee Islands.


Kayaking on the Duplin River.
Program Itinerary

The 2022 Marine Biology Spring Semester will take place from January 8 through April 23, 2022. Activities will be focused primarily on and around Sapelo Island. A major emphasis of the program is to introduce students to field techniques in marine sciences. As such, approximately half of the instructional time will be spent in the marine habitats that surround Sapelo Island. Studies will take place from shore and aboard the Research Vessel Spartina, as well as on UGAMI’s small boats.

In addition to classroom, lab, and field studies in the local habitats, there will be day trips to other sites along the Georgia Coast, including Jekyll Island, Skidaway Island, Brunswick, Darien, and Savannah. Field trips to the mainland will visit other marine science institutions, field study sites, marine resource management agencies, fishery and aquaculture businesses, and marine conservation organizations.

Contact Information

Damon Gannon, Ph.D.
Assistant Director for Academics/Marine Biology Spring Semester Program Director
University of Georgia Marine Institute
P.O. Box 32
Sapelo Island, GA 31327

Office Phone: 912-485-2221 ext. 2290
UGAMI Education Programs:

Exploring the beach at night.
Academic Program

Undergraduate students in the Marine Biology Spring Semester will be in residence at the UGA Marine Institute for the entire semester and will take 16 or 17 credit hours.  All courses are approved for the UGA curriculum (meaning that UGA students automatically receive credit and that transient students from other colleges or universities typically have an easier time petitioning their home institution to accept transfer credit because the courses are taught by an accredited U.S. university). 
Most of the courses are taught serially, in a block format. However, ECOL 3480-Special Topics in Ecology: Ecology of the Georgia Coast, is taught one day per week throughout the entire semester. This format allows students to focus more deeply on one topic at a time, to spend extended periods of time out in the field, highlights the real-world applications of what they learn in class, and draws connections among all of the courses. Undergraduates take the first five course units listed below. If they have already taken any of these classes, they can substitute BIOL 4960, ECOL 4960, or MARS 4960 (independent research in biology, ecology, or marine sciences). 
Graduate students may take MARS (FISH) 6380-6380L-Marine Fisheries Biology, which meets for an average of at least 4.5 hours per day, Monday through Friday, during a three-week period (March 22-April 9). Therefore, graduate students would be in residence at the Marine Institute for just this three-week period.
Tentative 2022 UGAMI Marine Biology Spring Semester – Course Offerings
Courses taught in block format (4 days/wk for 3-4 weeks)
1.       MARS 3450: Marine Biology (3 hrs) + MARS 3450L: Marine Biology Lab (1 hr). Instructor: Dr. Mary Ann Moran
2.       ECOL 3500-3500L: Ecology (4 hrs). Instructor: Dr. Emlyn Resetarits
3.       MARS (FISH) 4380/6380-4380L/6380L: Marine Fisheries Biology (3 hrs). Instructor: Dr. Damon Gannon
4.       BIOL 3720L: Field Animal Behavior (3 hrs). Instructor: TBA

Course Taught Throughout Entire Semester (1 day/wk)
5.       ECOL 3480: Special Topics in Ecology – Ecology of the Georgia Coast (3 hrs). Instructor: Dr. Damon Gannon
Substitute Option
6.    BIOL 4960R, ECOL 4960R, or MARS 4960: Independent Research (3 hrs).  
Students who have already taken one of the courses above can substitute a 4960 Independent Research course in Biology, Ecology or Marine Sciences under the mentorship of a faculty member.  Performing independent research allows students to put to use the knowledge they gained in their classes.  For many students, this is their first chance to actually “do science” and it can be a life-changing experience.  Potential research topics span a broad spectrum of fields including microbiology, biochemistry, organismal ecology, population biology, community ecology, ecosystem ecology, fisheries science, animal behavior, marine conservation and oceanography.  Projects can be observational or experimental.  Nearly all have a field study component; many include a laboratory studies.  See a list of titles from recent student research projects at UGAMI.

The courses taught during the Marine Biology Spring Semester have the following prerequisites: 
  • Math 1113: Precalculus
  • CHEM 1211: Freshman Chemistry I
  • CHEM 1211L: Freshman Chemistry I Lab
  • BIOL 1107: Principles of Biology I
  • Biol 1107L: Principles of Biology I Lab
  • CHEM 1212: Freshman Chemistry II
  • CHEM 1212L: Freshman Chemistry II Lab
  • BIOL 1108: Principles of Biology II
  • BIOL 1108L: Principles of Biology II Lab
Equivalent courses taken at other universities are accepted for prerequisites. See the University of Georgia's Course Bulletin for course descriptions.  

BIRL dormitory.


Students and faculty live on-site at the University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), on Sapelo Island. Student dormitories consist of double-occupancy rooms and are located within 50 meters of the research laboratories and the estuarine waters of Doboy Sound. Each dorm room has a bathroom with shower. Laundry machines are provided, free of charge. Each dorm unit has a fully-equipped kitchen.  Dorm units have common lounge areas and a new student recreation room was completed in summer of 2019.       

UGAMI provides all dinners, which are served in its dining hall. Faculty usually join the students for dinner. Because so much time during the day is spent in the field and the field schedule varies so much (depending on the tides, weather, and activities planned for any particular day), students provide their own breakfasts and lunches, which they can prepare in their dorm kitchens. Weekly grocery shopping trips to the mainland will be organized by program staff.

I. Title: The Ecology Wildlife Foundation Award for study at the UGA Marine Institute-CHECK BACK FOR INFORMATION ON THE 2022 SCHOLARSHIP
  • Description: The UGA Marine Institute (UGAMI) has established The Ecology Wildlife Foundation Award to support an undergraduate student participating in UGAMI’s Marine Biology Spring Semester. An award of $5,000 will be used to offset the student’s program fees. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of UGAMI faculty, with final selection by the UGAMI Director.
  • Eligibility: This award is for a student from any Institution who is attending the Marine Biology Spring Semester at UGAMI. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. Preference given for relevance of program to both the student’s academic and career goals, and strong faculty reference.
  • Deadline For 2020 spring semester:  Nov 15, 2019. - CHECK BACK FOR INFORMATION ON THE 2022 SCHOLARSHIP
  • To Apply: Submit (i) a one-page essay explaining how participating in the Marine Biology Spring Semester will advance you toward your academic and career goals and (ii) a letter of recommendation from a professor at your college or university to Dr. Damon Gannon at or at:
Dr. Damon Gannon
University of Georgia Marine Institute
P.O. Box 32
Sapelo Island, GA 31327
 II. Title: UGA Office of Global Engagement General Scholarships
III. Title:  UGA Experiential Learning Scholarships
  • Description: UGA’s Office of University Experiential Learning offers scholarships to support UGA undergraduate students pursuing approved experiential learning activities.  Awards are in amounts up to $2,500 and may be used for any EL-approved course or non-credit activity.
  • Eligibility: Students must meet the following criteria:
    • UGA Undergraduate students, including transfer students with at least one semester of UGA coursework
    • Minimum GPA of 3.0
    • Must be pursuing courses or non-credit activities approved for UGA Experiential Learning (All residential field study programs at UGAMI have been approved for Experiential Learning credit) 
  • Deadline for 2022 Spring Semester: October 2021 - CHECK BACK FOR INFORMATION ON THE 2021 SCHOLARSHIP
  • For Information and To Apply: go to


Students seining fish.

Program Ratings:
Accuracy and usefulness of orientation materials:
1 2 3 4
Accessibility and quality of health care:
1 2 3 4
Safety of location, facilities, excursions, and transportation:
1 2 3 4 5
Academic quality, appropriateness of workload:
1 2 3 4 5
Choice of location for excursions, field trips, site visits:
1 2 3 4 5
Safety, cleanliness, comfort and appropriateness of housing:
1 2 3 4
Arrangements for and quality of meals:
1 2 3 4
Opportunities to learn about and interact with the local culture:
1 2 3 4
Opportunities to learn about and interact with the local culture/people:
1 2 3 4
Overall effectiveness of program staff in managing program:
1 2 3 4 5
Effectiveness of program staff in handling academic and personal needs and concerns:
1 2 3 4
Value of the program in relation to the cost:
1 2 3 4
Overall quality of the program in relation to expectations:
1 2 3 4
Program Reviews:
Nikita L Wooldridge, Spring 2020 Participant
This is the BEST thing I could have done for my marine biology career. It is definitely worth it.

Nikita L Wooldridge, Spring 2020 Participant
The program was managed very well and the authoritative figures were always very understanding. IF there was ever a concern it was taken care of immediately and the people in charge would always keep everyone in the loop which was very nice and reassuring.

Nikita L Wooldridge, Spring 2020 Participant
UGAMI is located on one of the best islands on this planet! Sapelo Island is very beautiful and clearly has been taken care of properly for many years -- everything has been preserved very nicely. Everything is very safe; if at any point there was a feeling of uncertainty you could clearly ask anyone for help and they would assist you.

This program is currently not accepting applications.