SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems (SPICE) attracts students from all majors who want to understand environmental, political, and cultural changes from an interdisciplinary perspective and in an historical context.
Share experiences through digital storytelling
Participate in collaborative stakeholder engagement
Explore Pacific island environments including Tonga & Fiji
Conduct on-site anthropological research
The remote islands of Polynesia are some of the most special and significant places in the world. Their coral reefs and tropical forests are oases of biological diversity, and their human populations possess an equally rich diversity of histories, languages, and social practices. Western colonization brought about disruptive changes in the economies and cultures of island societies that, over many centuries, confronted and often overcame their own challenges of sustainable adaptation. Today, western values, consumer products, and cultural suppression have severely undermined the close connection between island cultures and the environment. More extraordinary, however, has been the many ways in which indigenous Pacific societies have either resisted imposed ideas and practices or incorporated them as their own. These societies, which span from Hawai’i to New Zealand to Easter Island, and everywhere within the Polynesian Triangle, confront global challenges while constantly reshaping, in local terms, what it means to be Polynesian.
In this study abroad at sea semester, students will examine what the future holds for these islands, and whether they can offer solutions for how we manage our natural resources that may apply to other regions of the world. Developed by SEA faculty in conjunction with local partners, this semester is uniquely situated to immerse students in collaborative relationships with communities and agencies in the region working for environmental and cultural sustainability. The program will begin with a shore component in Woods Hole where students will be introduced to the history, culture, and geography of remote Pacific Islands. Visiting scholars will share their work on environmental science, Polynesian voyaging and navigation, and traditional art and cultural practices.
Students will then begin their sailing research voyage, visiting several South Pacific islands to confront challenging questions surrounding cultural identity, colonial conflict and exchange, and the complex connections between human communities, political structures, and the environment. They will explore issues of sustainability with local officials and residents while visiting historical, cultural, and environmental management sites, and investigate the complex factors that threaten fragile island ecosystems and the surrounding marine environment in an effort to pursue a more sustainable relationship with our oceans. The study at sea program will conclude with a shore component in New Zealand where students will assemble and present their research findings.
Program faculty place significant value not only on students’ informative interactions with sustainability projects and practices, but on their ability to function as effective communicators in public settings as well. An integral part of the program’s curriculum involves developing the required skills for persuasively communicating ideas and facts about sustainability to audiences of every size. Storytelling skill development takes place within the context of examining the role of oral narrative tradition in Polynesian cultures, coupled with explorations of the key factors in effective scientific communication in the age of podcasting and other digital audio media.
Academic Coursework & Credit
SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems offers 17 credits from Boston University. Courses are as follows:
Cultural Landscapes & Seascapes: A Sense of Place (300-level, 3 credits) Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Field-intensive analysis and documentation of dynamic relationships between nature and culture in specific coastal, island, and ocean places. Apply cultural landscape and related interdisciplinary bio-cultural approaches to place-based environmental studies.
Maritime History and Culture (4 credits) Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Explore impacts of European maritime ventures on the societies they contacted in the Atlantic or Pacific, with focus on the resulting social, political, economic, and cultural changes. Investigate responses documented in the post-Colonial literature of indigenous people.
Marine Environmental History (4 credits) Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Employ methods and sources of historians and social scientists. Examine the role of human societies in coastal and open ocean environmental change. Issues include resource conservation, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.
Nautical Science (3 credits) Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.
Oceanography (3 credits) Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Explore how interconnected ocean characteristics (bathymetry, seawater chemistry, biological diversity) and processes (plate tectonics, surface and deep-water circulation, biological production) shape global patterns across multiple scales. Discuss destination-specific environmental issues and hot topics in marine research.