University of Georgia

UGA Marine Institute expands undergraduate residential program

University of Georgia students watching tiger-striped hermit crabs
The UGA Marine Institute now offers residential programs for undergraduates in the spring and summer. Students live on Sapelo Island and spend their days—and even nights, like these students watching tiger-striped hermit crabs—in the field, working with and learning from marine biologists, ecologists and other researchers not only from UGA but from across the country. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

Responding to strong interest in its 4-year-old “Coastal Summer Semester,” the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island will offer a spring residential program ( for 14 undergraduates interested in studying marine biology. Enrolled students will earn a total of 17 credit hours, broken up as five “mini-courses” to be taken sequentially throughout the spring.

Participating students in the field-intensive program will live in UGAMI’s student dormitory, located just a few meters away from the institute’s research labs and the estuarine waters of Doboy Sound. The spring program’s fee covers housing and dinner each evening. Each dormitory room has a full kitchen for breakfast and lunch preparation, as the students will spend the majority of their days in the field.

“It’s an immersive experience and a real opportunity to do actual science,” said Damon Gannon, UGAMI’s assistant director for academics. “Students will get to know professionals in the field, as our faculty eat and spend time with them outside of class. It’s not your typical classroom experience, and it’s a good introduction to researchers from across the country and the work they do at Sapelo.”

UGAMI provides research and educational opportunities for scientists not just from UGA but from around the Southeast and the nation. The facility, which has been rebuilt after extensive flooding during Hurricane Irma in 2017, offers ready access to a range of coastal ecosystems, including the nearshore ocean, estuarine sounds, salt marshes, tidal creeks, beaches, dunes, maritime forests and freshwater wetlands.

Sapelo Island itself is a 16,500-acre barrier island located about 50 miles south of Savannah. Its historic Hog Hammock area is one of the last remaining Gullah/Geechee communities in the country. UGAMI is located at the island’s southern tip, accessible only by ferry from the mainland.

“My time on Sapelo was incredible,” said Hakon Jones, a senior ecology and biology major who spent his summer on the island. “Living on a protected island that so few get to see, with the wildlife and the atmosphere of the salt marsh all around you, is something every ecology or biology major who’s interested in being outdoors would find breathtaking.”

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