Sustainability and Conservation in the Caribbean

About the Course

Due to a combination of global climate change and human land use intensification, island nations in the Caribbean are grappling with a unique set of challenges in the 21st century. Low agricultural productivity, declining fresh water access, and emerging threats to human and environmental health (e.g., invasive species and infectious disease in marine and terrestrial ecosystems) affect the basis for social and economic development, particularly in countries with economies reliant on nature-based tourism. Meanwhile, misplaced societal priorities regarding sustainable development and conservation exacerbate the conditions leading to socioeconomic vulnerability. The solutions to these intractable problems lie in interdisciplinary natural science, social science, and engineering research efforts. This course uses Eleuthera, Bahamas, a subtropical island ecosystem of enormous conservation value, as a case study to explore natural and cultural dimensions of sustainability and conservation and scientific innovations to promote resilient ecosystems and society in a developing country under stress due to climate change and human activities. The travel portion of the course takes place from January 6 to January 18, 2019, and the class size is limited to 12 students with application-based enrollment. 3 credits.

Watch students from the Fall 2017 - Winter 2018 class present about their study abroad experiences in the Bahamas at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions here!

Learning Outcomes

The goal of the course is to integrate the knowledge, interests, and perspectives of University of Maine students from different disciplines to train all students in interdisciplinary research and problem-solving in the context of sustainability. By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  1. Discuss the concepts of sustainability and conservation in biological, engineering, and cultural contexts
  2. Appreciate the unique environmental, technological, and societal challenges in developing nations
  3. Understand and compare perspectives on the challenges of sustainable development and resiliency from different disciplines that may not regularly interact in the classroom
  4. Develop skills necessary to collaborate in an interdisciplinary setting to analyze sustainability and marine conservation challenges by completing field projects in Eleuthera, Bahamas
  5. Effectively communicate the results of these student-driven projects to various audiences.

Course Format

During the Fall semester, the class will hold six, two-hour pre-trip meetings to orient you to the study abroad portion of the course. These meetings will be held on Wednesday from 5:00-7:00pm, October 31 - December 12, 2018. Over winter break, we will visit The Island School at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Eleuthera, Bahamas from January 6 - 18, 2019. At The Island School, you will experience firsthand the challenges and tradeoffs of sustainable living, staying in communal dorm rooms with all electricity generated, food produced, and fresh water harvested on-site. In collaboration with instructors, researchers, and community members at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and in nearby settlements, you will spend one immersive week participating in ongoing marine conservation, sustainable agriculture, and engineering research at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. You then will have the opportunity to pursue study of a topic of personal interest in depth by conducting an individual research project on a selected aspect of sustainability and conservation in island ecosystems, culminating in a final presentation and report.

About Us

The course is led by Dr. Allie Gardner and Dr. Brandon Lieberthal. Allie is an entomologist and an Assistant Professor in the School of Biology and Ecology who studies the ecology of infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks. Brandon is a postdoctoral associate in the College of Engineering who studies the interactions between climate change and aquaculture. Both Allie and Brandon are experienced field instructors who previously led a student trip to the Bahamas in January 2018.

I’m Interested! How Do I Apply?

The course is limited to 12 students who will be selected by a competitive application process. We will give first preference to seniors and juniors, particularly those who have had limited opportunity for international travel, followed by sophomores, graduate students, and non-degree students enrolling through the Division of Lifelong Learning. Students from all backgrounds and majors are welcome to apply; we are seeking to bring together a diverse group of natural and social scientists. To apply for the course, send a short essay (~250 words) describing your interest in the course and your prior experience with international travel to either Allie ( or Brandon ( For full consideration, applications must be submitted by 5:00 pm on May 3 (the last day of classes). After that, applications will be considered on a rolling basis. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns!


What does my course fee cover? Are there any extra or hidden costs?

The course fee of $3,000 covers the flight from Logan Airport in Boston to Rock Sound Airport in Eleuthera, Bahamas; lodging and meals at The Island School in Eleuthera; day trip registration fees and meal costs; and iNext international travel insurance. On top of the course fee, all students will need to enroll in the Divers Alert Network for an additional cost of $35. This is to cover air evacuation to Florida in the case of a medical emergency (note that "Divers Alert Network" is just the name of the company providing the medical evacuation insurance, and we will not be doing any actual diving on the trip!). Students also will be responsible for paying for meals in the airport on travel days and checked bag fees. There are no other extra costs!

Where will I be staying?

Students stay in same-sex communal dorm rooms at The Island School. Your "roommates" will include your classmates at the University of Maine, and may also include undergraduates from other universities in the U.S. and Europe. All students and instructors eat in a communal dining area (which is the best food we have tasted at a field station, including the vegetarian options!). Internet access is available at The Island School.

What do I need to do to prepare in advance of the trip?

According to C.D.C. recommendations, there are no vaccines required for travel to the Bahamas apart from routine vaccinations. You DO need a passport for the trip, and to hold your space in the course, you must provide a photocopy of your passport to the instructors by the end of the first week of classes in August. We will provide a complete packing list prior to travel.

Is Eleuthera safe?

While all international travel carries some element of risk, Eleuthera is a safe location, The Island School is set up for high school and undergraduate students, and both instructors have previous experience traveling to the Bahamas with students. The crime rate is low, there are medical facilities and a medical staff available on-site, and in the case of emergency, medical evacuation to Nassau or Florida is available and covered through Divers Alert Network insurance. Students will not have access to cars or alcohol while traveling. We will be traveling at a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1 and the instructors and educational staff from The Island School will be accessible at all times.

What credit will I earn toward my major from this course?

For Biology, Zoology, and Botany majors, the course will provide one lab credit, partial fulfillment of the Area V (Ecology) requirement, and 3 credits toward the 24 required in the biological sciences. Students from non-SBE majors should consult with their home departments regarding credit earned toward their majors from this course.

Can I pay the course fee with financial aid?

Yes, financial aid may be used to pay the course fee in addition to tuition. Please contact the Financial Aid Office at (207) 581-1324 for more information.