Marine Ecology: Studying and Safeguarding Our Most Vulnerable Ecosystems

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 11, 20217/19 - 8/113 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineJane Diener
Sarah Egner

Course Description

The great marine biologist, Sylvia Earle, says, “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.” With effects of global climate change on the rise, it is essential that we take action to work towards protecting the most vulnerable ecosystems on this planet. Our marine ecosystems need protection and that will take a new generation of leaders with the passion and skills to rise to the challenge. This exciting, new course, developed in partnership with the MarineLab, allows students to dive into the beautiful marine ecosystems of the Florida Keys and learn leadership skills they can use to make positive change in their own communities. With lessons led by marine biologists, the course will take students through the abiotic and biotic components of the primary habitats of the Florida Keys waters (seagrasses, mangroves, and coral reefs), the interconnection of these habitats, and the impacts (both positive and negative) that humans have on this fragile ecosystem (e.g. marine debris, marine protected areas).

This course is meant to give a broad view of marine ecology in a subtropical habitat. Marine ecology of the Florida Keys is unique in that the waters house the only barrier coral reef system in North America. The primary habitats of the waters are closely interconnected and the diverging bodies of water on either side of the islands demonstrate the relationship of abiotic and biotic parameters. Home to thousands of species, the waters of the Florida Keys lend themselves to interesting ecological studies. Lessons for this course will come in many different formats, including plenty of on water and underwater footage taken by the biologist instructors. The fact that the instructors for this course have access to the habitats they are teaching about will allow for truly unique lessons. Recorded instructor presentations will be captured in the field or in the lab and will often include live specimens. Pairing this close look at marine ecosystems with leadership development workshops, students will be able to engage in marine conservation work in their own communities--whether they live near a body of water or not. On top of all the course lessons, students will gain access to an abundance of resources on marine ecology, leadership development, and science communication. All of the course lessons, workshops, and assignments culminate with a final presentation that students prepare for throughout the course. Students will identify a pressing issue that they are passionate about and, with support from instructors and peers, will create an Action Plan to apply their new leadership knowledge to this issue in their home community. We encourage students to think about potential Action Plan topics before they come to this course, but most develop their ideas during the course with help of peers and in-class activities. All students are provided with a detailed Action Plan Workbook to turn their great ideas into solid, achievable, meaningful plans. For example, past students have established community gardens, written a grant to install solar panels on a school building, and coordinated ocean or beach clean-up events.

During this course, students will learn to: 1. Identify and strengthen leadership qualities that may lead to improved collaboration and problem solving. 2. Clearly communicate concepts in environmental studies and/or environmental justice to a variety of stakeholders or individuals. 3. Acknowledge, understand and gain tools to process the large spectrum of impacts caused by global climate change. 4. Develop effective, feasible, and impactful Action Plan projects that use lessons from this course to create positive change in their local communities. 5. Identify unique ecological aspects of the Florida Keys marine ecosystem. 6. Explain the interconnection of environmental and living components within a habitat as well as the ecological connection of various habitats within the Florida Keys marine ecosystem. 7. Propose ecologically feasible efforts to mitigate negative human impacts on subtropical marine ecosystems.

Prerequisites: One unique quality of this course is the large emphasis on community development among students in each section. Therefore, this course has a synchronous component, meaning students will be expected to join for some real time lessons and class discussions at least once per week. The real time classes will be scheduled and published in advance. There are always alternative assignments available for students who are unable to attend because of time differences or technical difficulties.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0930

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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