Tropical Marine Biology

Universidad Veritas

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Tropical Marine Biology

  • Host University

    Universidad Veritas

  • Location

    San José, Costa Rica

  • Area of Study

    Ecology, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Wildlife Biology

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course name: Tropical Marine Biology
    Course code: ENV 3190
    Total contact hours: 60 hours
    Prerequisite: General Biology STRONGLY recommended

    The oceans were formed between 4400 and 3500 million years ago, and they occupy about 71% of the Earth?s surface. Tropical seas hold the highest ecosystem and species diversity of the oceans. This course has been designed to introduce the basic concepts of oceanography, marine geology, marine ecology and marine biology, with emphasis on the interaction between species, between species and their environment and between ecosystems. It also provides information on the natural and human environmental impact, and the utility, management and conservation of the ecosystems.

    1) Comprehend the concepts and issues addressed to marine biology.
    2) Understand the current methodologies in this discipline as well as their importance in the management of natural marine resources.
    3) Learn about Costa Rican marine ecosystems, biodiversity and environmental issues through field trips and field work in coral reefs, sandy and muddy beaches, mangroves and estuaries.
    4) Learn about biology and ecology of species with commercial importance and the ecosystems.
    5) Understand the importance of the balance and the harmony among different types of ecosystems.

    Unit 1. Introduction to the Course and the Region
    1. Marine Biology vs. Oceanography
    2. Marine and coastal environments in Costa Rica
    3. Seasonal and Tropical Seas
    Unit 2. Tropical Marine Biology and Geology
    1. Formation of Oceanic Crust
    2. Difference between Oceanic Crust and Continental Crust
    3. Biological Importance of Plate Motion
    4. Types of Plate Convergence
    5. Biogeography of the Central American Isthmus
    6. Ocean life zones (Division of marine environments)
    Unit 3. Physical and Chemical Oceanography
    1. Water: Chemical composition
    2. Composition of Sea Water
    3. Difference between Conservative and Non-Conservative Properties
    4. Formation of winds, waves, tides, surface and deep currents
    5. Natural Events:
    - Hurricanes (how they form and global warming effect on them)*
    - Tsunamis *
    6. Hydrothermal Vents *
    7. Adaptations to life in hydrothermal vents
    Unit 4. Marine Ecology and Plankton
    1. Marine Biodiversity
    2. Marine Ecology
    3. Definition of Plankton
    4. Phytoplankton and zooplankton
    5. Bioluminescence *
    6. Blooms vs. Red Tides *
    7. Plankton seasonal cycles
    8. The biological pump *
    Unit 5. Global Change Impact on Marine Life
    1. Positive and negative feedback to green house effect
    2. Sea level change *
    3. El Niño & La Niña events **
    4. The Importance of the Biological Pump: Role of plankton on global change
    5. Oceanic acidification **
    Unit 6. Marine Invertebrates
    1. Difference between invertebrates and vertebrates
    2. Characteristics and life habits of:
    - Porifera: Sponges
    - Cnidarians:
    i. Corals, anemones
    ii. Jellyfishes and comb jellies
    - Sea Worms
    - Crustaceans:
    i. Lobsters, crabs, shrimp, crayfish
    ii. Barnacles and Sea spiders
    - Mollusks:
    i. Octopuses and squids
    ii. Snails and slugs
    iii. Shells (scallops, clams, oysters and mussels).
    - Echinoderms: Sand dollars, sea stars, Feather stars, Brittle star and sea urchins
    - Urochordata: Tunicates
    Unit 7. Marine Ecosystems
    1. Coral reefs: Rain forest of the ocean.
    2. Difference between corals and coral reefs
    3. Types of corals
    4. Types of coral reefs
    5. Distribution of Coral Reef
    6. Coral Reef Ecology
    a. Algae and Coral reefs
    i. Microalgae and coral
    ii. Tropical Marine Macroalgae
    - Description of main groups
    - Competition: algae-coral **
    - "Invasive" algae (Caulerpa sertularioides) *
    b. Competition: coral-coral **
    c. Bioerosion (the balance) **
    d. Corallivores: Starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreak *
    e. Hervibores: Sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) *
    7. Natural and human impacts on coral reefs **
    8. Natural vs. Artificial Coral Reefs **
    Unit 8. Other Coastal Ecosystems
    1. Seagrasses (Distribution, Ecology and Importance)
    2. Mangroves (Distribution, Ecology and Importance)
    3. Estuaries (Distribution, Ecology and Importance)
    4. Intertidal zone (Types and Ecology)
    5. Interaction between tropical coastal ecosystems *
    6. Marine Ecosystems threats**
    Unit 9. Marine Vertebrates-Fishes I
    1. All vertebrates
    2. Fishes
    - What is a fish?
    - Hagfish And Lampreys
    - Senses **
    - Bouyance*
    3. Sharks
    - types
    - Reproduction
    - Feeding *
    - Sharks attacks (Myths and Reality) *
    - Sharks Threats: the case of Costa Rica
    4. Rays **
    5. Fisheries and overfishing **
    Unit 10. Marine Vertebrates-Fishes II
    1. Bony Fishes:
    - Structure, shape and Movement
    - Respiration
    - Feeding
    - Reproduction
    - Behavior and communication
    - Fish Schools (Shoaling behavior)*
    - Migratory Behavior *
    - Aggressive Behavior *
    - Pattern of colors **
    Unit 11. Marine Vertebrates ? Reptiles
    1. MarineTurtles, Crocodiles and Snakes
    - Reproduction and Nesting cycle (Turtles, crocodiles and sea snakes) *
    - Orientation and navigation (Turtles) *
    - Distribution
    - Feeding
    - Locomotion
    - Special Adaptations
    - Reptiles in Costa Rica
    2. Marine Birds
    - Anatomic Adaptations
    Unit 12. Marine Vertebrates-Mammals
    1. Cetaceans: Dolphins and Whales
    - Communication skills **
    - Distribution
    - Feeding
    - Locomotion
    - Special Adaptations
    - Reproduction *
    - Cetaceans in Costa Rica *
    - Whaling **
    2. Sirenians: Manatees and Dugongs
    - Distribution
    - Feeding
    - Locomotion
    - Special Adaptations *
    3. Carnivores: Polar Bears, Seals, Otters and Walruses
    - Special adaptations *
    4. Marine mammals threats **
    5. Marine mammals in Costa Rica
    * Possible subjects for student?s individual presentations

    Student's attendance to every class is mandatory. If a student gets sick or has some other important problem, he/she has to bring a document justifying their absence.
    After 2 injustified absences, students will fail the course.
    If you miss more than one day of class in a given month, YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE CREDIT for that particular course.
    Electronic devices:
    The use of cell phones, smart phones, or other mobile communication devices is disruptive, and is therefore prohibited during class. Please turn all devices OFF and put them away when class begins. Devices may be used ONLY when the professor assigns a specific activity and allows the use of devices for internet search or recording. Those who fail to comply with the rule must leave the classroom for the remainder of the class period.

    Professors have the right to expel a student from the classroom should he / she:
    be disruptive in the classroom
    be under the influence of alcohol or even smell like alcohol
    Behave in a disrespectful way.
    If you tend to be late for class, you will lose 25% of your total grade

    The classes are present with plenty of visual images and examples in power point presentations. Some classes are complemented with movies as well. Students should participate in class reading discussions in order to have a better comprehension of the theory.
    This course is structured for International Students attending the Study Abroad program at Universidad Veritas. However, courses are not exclusive to foreigners so a few native student could enroll in this course.
    In the chronogram students will find the assignment within the due date. Students should post the assignment on MOODLE before 12am and not after that day.
    Individual: Students will have to make one individual presentation (power point) through the course. The presentation could be about any subject marked with a " * " on the course contents.
    Students should prepare a smmary of the presentation for the group.
    The presentations should last 10-15min . Students should email the power point presentation to the professor 2 days before their presentation, if not, they will get 5 points off. The day for the student presentation coincides with the date of the lesson containing that subject.
    Group Research Assignment
    The assignment will be by groups of 3 or 4 students. Which have to research on a subject from the list given by the professor (or any other subject that we are not covering during the course) and carry out a power point presentation. Students need to send by email a formal paper about their investigation following a format that is going to be giver by the professor.
    It will be evaluated based on well defined focus, structure and conclusions. The grade obtain in this paper will be the same for all the group members.
    The presentation should last from 15 to 20min. Each group member has to talk at least for 5 minutes and the evaluation on this part will be separately.
    For All Presentations:
    It will be evaluated based on preparation (knowledge assimilation), presentation style (organization, smoothness, and clarity), slides (preparation and organization), finishing the presentation in time, and answering questions.
    It is not allowed to read everything or almost everything from slides or notes.
    LAB HOURS (complementary to the Field sessions there will be approximately 8 to 12 hours of class conducted in the Laboratory)
    Learning skill in Marine biology lab
    - The laboratory will be an area where student will complemented the findings during field trips in the following ways:
    - Students will learn how collect plankton in the field and identify plankton using microscopes
    - Students will be able to recognize the differences in species composition of plankton in the Caribbean and the Pacific, also during the day and night.
    - Students will collect samples of sand and mud, dye the samples and observe and recognize the organism in the microscopes
    - Students will collect organisms in the field (dead specimens like shells) and learn how to preserve the organisms so other students learn from this collection.
    - Students will be able to recognize anatomical features of the most common kind of organisms using the collected organisms from previous field trips

    - Field trips are not excursions
    - Participants must be fully enrolled in this course and no guests are allowed.
    - Students must be on time for all fieldtrip activities including departure from places and pre-schedule meal times.
    - Although many places of the country have allowed us to find suitable accomodations many of the volunteer work stations or research areas require rustic accomodations.
    - This is an environmental science course. Field work may include long walks, field work in dense vegetation areas and night schedules for species monotoring.
    This course includes two mandatory Laboratory Field Trips: (choices will depend on climate and turtle seasons); Probably one in the Pacific, Curú (Gulf of Nicoya), Playa Grande, Cuajiniquil (Guanacaste) or Ostional and one in the Caribbean Tortuguero Canals, Cahuita or Gandoca Manzanillo (Limón).
    Lodging and main meals are covered by the course, but students should bring some extra money to buy water and other individual needs. Bring also swimming suit, towel, long and short pants, walking shoes, repellent and sunblock.
    Students should be at Veritas front door in time for the fieldtrip. We are not waiting for anyone. Students who miss the bus will have to get to the fieldtrip location by themselves or FAIL the course.
    Fieldtrip Report
    Students will have their own notebook for noting everything they see or learn while in the field and what they think about it. Each person?s journal will be unique to them, not only in that you will each notice different things, but you will each interpret similar things differently. This journal will help the students to write their fieldtrip report, which is a formal paper of your journal information.
    The fieldtrip report contain information of what the student see and learn in the fieldtrip and what they think about the fieldtrip.
    Students should email it to the professor one week after the fieldtrip.

    Individual presentation 10%
    Class Participation (discussions, homeworks) 5%
    5 Quizzes 15%
    Midterm Tests (Units 1 to 6) 15%
    Final Test (Units 7 to 12) 15%
    Group Research 10%
    15% each field trip 30%
    (Participation 5%, Report 10%)

    Goreau, T.F., N.I. Goreau & T.J. Goreau. 1979. Corals and Coral Reefs. Scientific American. August, 1996: 124-136.
    Gribbin, J. 1991. Climate Now. New Scientist, 44:1-4
    Janzen, H.D. 1983. Costa Rican Natural History. The University of Chicago Press. 789p.
    Lutz, P.L. & J.A. Musick. 1996. The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press, Boca Ratón, Florida. 432p.
    Moyle, P.B. & J.J. Cech. 2003. Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology. 5th Edition. Benjamin Cummings. 672p.
    Nibakken, J.W. & M.D. Bertness. 2005. Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach. 6th ed. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco, 579p.
    Reynolds III, J.E. & S.A. Rommel. 1999. Biology of Marine Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press. 578p.
    Ruppert, E.E. & R.D. Barnes. 1996. Zoología de los Invertebrados. 6ª Ed. Interamericana S.A. Mexico. 1114p.
    Rutzler, K. & I.C. Feller. 1996. Caribbean Mangrove Swamps. Scientific American. March, 1996: 70-75
    Williamson, P. & J. Gribbin. 1991. How Plankton Change the Climate. New Scientist, 44:48-52

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations


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