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San Salvador Island, Bahamas

Program Description

This course explores the geology and ecology of the shallow-water marine environment by examining the preeminent modern example, the Bahamas platform. The Bahamas provide an excellent model for understanding modern and ancient carbonate and reef deposits and a variety of terrestrial/aquatic habitats. Biological processes are responsible for many of the geological features of the Bahamas, so the course considers the biology/ecology of marine organisms in addition to geological topics.

This is a one-semester junior/senior level course, advanced sophomore students may apply. The lecture portion of the course is designed to introduce students to current depositional models of shallow-water carbonate platforms and shallow-water marine/reef ecology. This will be done through a combination of formal lectures, selected readings, and lab/active learning exercises in the first half of the semester. Students will be tested over this material prior to the excursion to San Salvador Island.

While on San Salvador the students will spend approximately half of each day observing modern depositional environments and ecology by snorkeling, and the remaining time each day examining the marginal marine terrestrial environment.

Upon returning to JMU students will spend the remaining portion of the semester compiling an illustrated and referenced field guidebook to the places that they visited on San Salvador Island.

Location Description

The course is based at the Gerace Research Centre on San Salvador Island, Bahamas.


Stephen Leslie | | Geology and Environmental Science

Luoie Wurch | | Biology


The Research Centre consists of all the buildings necessary to support field research and teaching. It provides separate housing for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and researchers.

The cafeteria at the Gerace Research Centre serves three fully prepared meals daily, while a snack bar is available for after hours use. While in the field, lunches are provided by the field station in coolers.

Additional Items to Consider

Students must be able to swim and must bring their own mask, fins, and snorkel for observing modern marine environments.

A fee of approximately $1000 covers transportation to and from San Salvador Island from Nassau; and room & board on San Salvador for 7 days/nights. (Cost assumes course fills to 16 students.)

STUDENTS MUST ARRANGE FOR THEIR OWN TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM NASSAU (currently ~ $400-600 round trip Washington DC - Nassau).

This program is best intended for any geology, Earth science, Biology, or environmental science (including ISAT and IdLS) majors or minors.

*Students enrolled at JMU full-time Spring 2021 will pay no additional tuition to participate in a spring break program. The program fee will be the total required cost.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Prerequisites: GEOL 110, 115, or a 200-level GEOL or BIO course, and at least 4 hours of additional lab science, and permisson of the instructor.

Junior or senior standing, grad students (special permission may be given to students of sophomore status after an interview with the Director)

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application Fee ($40)
  • Short essay
  • Interview with Program Director
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


GEOL 400: Geology and Ecology of the Bahamas (3 credits)

BIO 400: Geology and Ecology of the Bahamas (3 credits)

BIO 500: Graduate Topics in Biology: Geology and Ecology of the Bahamas (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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