Student News

Studying New Zealand's Oceans

Ella Simon '22 is currently studying human impacts on the ocean's environment by participating in the Sea Education Association (SEA) Semester program, which has set sail for a six-week voyage from Auckland to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Photo of woman at sea

Ella Simon '22, who studies Visual Arts, Public Action, and Environmental Studies, is among a select group of 25 undergraduates from diverse US institutions who are spending this semester sailing through the waters of New Zealand. Their goal is to study one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century: human impacts on the environment.

The students, whose majors range from literature to marine biology, are enrolled in SEA Semester: The Global Ocean, a study abroad program offered by Sea Education Association (SEA). To better understand New Zealand’s changing marine environment, the program offers a multidisciplinary, place-based examination through the lenses of natural science, policy, history, and culture.

The semester began in early January with six weeks of preparatory coursework on shore at SEA Semester’s campus in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

On February 14, the students arrived aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, SEA’s state-of-the-art 134-foot brigantine, in Auckland, New Zealand to begin a six-week coastal and blue water voyage, ending March 23 in Christchurch.

As an island nation, the health of New Zealand’s ocean, land, and people are inextricably connected. New Zealand has made a national commitment to sustainable management of its marine resources, but its innovative policies and conservation efforts at times compete with economic goals. Through planned port stops including Russell, Wellington, and Dunedin, the students will attempt to understand how centuries of seaborne commerce, fishing, and land development have influenced the natural environment of these coastal zones and offshore waters.

Individual research projects are an integral component of a SEA Semester voyage. Past Global Ocean research projects range from “The Spatial Distribution of Micro- and Macroplastics in New Zealand Waters,” to “Maori Cultures in New Zealand Ports: Imperial Reign and Succession of Traditions.”

Like all SEA Semester programs, The Global Ocean also focuses on leadership and teamwork skills in a dynamic environment. During their voyage, the SSV Robert C. Seamans will serve as home, classroom, and laboratory. On board, students will become full working members of the ship’s crew, sharing responsibilities for standing watch, processing oceanographic samples, navigating by the stars, and participating in round-the-clock operations under the guidance of professional mariners and oceanographers.

Bennington College is a proud member of the Institute of International Education's Generation Study Abroad initiative and committed to working with each student to make study away accessible. The Sea Semester program is just one of many study away options available. Interested students can learn more by requesting information about Learning Beyond Bennington.