The Best Marine Biology Summer Programs for High School Students

Marine biology summer programs take all the best parts of summer vacation – swimming, boating, and spending time with friends under the sun – and converge them with exciting academic research pursuits in some of the most beautiful locations in the United States and the world. 

Marine biology involves investigating marine life, behavior, and interactions within different ecosystems. Such contexts can include oceans, lakes, rivers, and coastal reefs, to name a few. 

Taking part in a high school marine biology summer program almost certainly promises up-close encounters with species like dolphins, sea turtles, alligators, and seals. 

Community service is a common thread across some of the best high school summer marine biology programs. 

From coral reef restoration and beach clean-ups to veterinary healthcare and coastal preservation, there are many ways to learn about and mitigate threats to marine life.

Participating in a summer marine biology program is also a great way to see if marine biology is the right college major for you. Some programs offer college credit, while others are beneficial in forging connections with faculty mentors and industry experts. 

Marine biologists are needed more than ever as the world continues to grapple with climate change. 

A career in marine biology will be hands-on, take you to exciting places worldwide, and connect you with knowledgeable, passionate field experts. No two days will ever be the same! 

We’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best marine biology summer programs for high school students. 

Spanning three oceans and four continents, we’re confident budding marine biologists will find the perfect summer program to prepare them for their future careers.

Eckerd College Pre-College Marine Science (St. Petersburg, FL)

Eckerd College
Elisa.rolle, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL, CC BY-SA 4.0

Recently recognized as one of the “40 colleges that change lives,” Eckerd’s reputation is primarily steeped in its commitment to mentorship. High school juniors and seniors who enroll in the Pre-College Marine Science program can expect the same relationship with world-renowned faculty leaders. 

Not only will participants gain experience in marine biology, but they’ll also explore the fields of marine geology and marine chemistry.

Lasting seven days, Eckerd’s marine science program will immerse students in off-shore invertebrate netting, zooplankton and crab catch-and-release expeditions, hydrophone deployment, and wild dolphin photography. 

On land, scholars will observe shorebird foraging practices, study alligators, and examine microorganisms using microscopes.

Scholarships are available for those who demonstrate financial need, and there is only one requirement to enroll in the program – all students must be able to pass a 150-yard swim test without touching the bottom of the testing pool. There is no time limit, and they can engage in any swimming style they feel most comfortable using.

ActionQuest British Virgin Islands Focused Tropical Marine Biology with SCUBA Specialties (British Virgin Islands)

High school students with a prior basic diving or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification: the British Virgin Islands is calling your name! 

In this marine science program, high school youth ages 15-18 are organized into crews aboard a catamaran in the Caribbean. 

The first three days of the program launch students into the water with various naturalist and marine biology-specific dives at South Peter Island, Cooper Island, and Savannah Bay. 

With an emphasis on dolphin study, participants will additionally explore coastal environmental issues, fishery and sustainability obstacles, coral reef life, and myth debunking regarding major aquatic life clusters.

By the end of the three-week excursion, youth will have earned up to four different diving certifications, honed underwater photography skills, and logged many hours on the water via sailboats, waterskis, and wakeboards. The best part? You can earn high school credit!

Advanced Marine Science Institute at The Acadia Institute of Oceanography (Seal Harbor, ME)

Not far from the entrance of one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, The Acadia Institute of Oceanography runs two two-week marine science programs for teens ages 15-19 who possess at least one full year of high school science. 

This offering stands out from others on our list in that it places more emphasis on lab report preparation and fieldwork analysis.

A sample day itinerary may involve “tank talk” discussions about phyla characteristics, sunrise hikes to Cadillac Mountain, algae identification field trips, and water testing labs. In the evenings, participants attend seminars on topics like the history of the whaling industry, the fantastic world of mangroves, and manatee conservation. Every day brings new experiences and insights!

The Acadia Institute program is so well revered that the nearby College of the Atlantic offers $10,000 scholarships to the institution for any AIO participant, renewable for up to four years! The only stipulation is a letter of recommendation from one of the AIO’s directors.

ARCC Summer: Protecting Reefs & Rainforests (Bali & Sumatra)

For this one-of-a-kind adventure, courageous high school scholars will jet-set to where the Indian and Pacific Oceans converge. The experience splits its programming into an exploration of both coral reefs and rainforests on the land. 

Scholars will also dedicate at least 25 hours to community service projects. This program has two significant endeavors: an Orangutan Habitat Restoration and Reef Conservation Project. 

Participants collect wild seedlings, work in the nursery, and plant native trees in order to improve the orangutan habitat, while the second project places students alongside working marine biologists to engage in beach cleanups, coral planting, and artificial reef-building.

In the segment of the experience more focused on marine science, scholars will gain their Open Water SCUBA certification and speak with scientists about coral ecosystems and how to create new breeds that resist the threats of bleaching and disease. 

UConn Pre-College Summer: Pre-Vet Marine Animal Health & Veterinary Science (Mystic, CT)

Aspiring veterinarians, this pre-college summer marine biology program might be the perfect choice for you! 

Hosted at Mystic Aquarium, the core components of this experience include discourse with animal trainers and rescue pros, as well as laboratory projects focused on conserving animal species like seals, penguins, and diverse fish.

Daily experiences thrust students at the intersection of hematology, genetics, and microbiology, as well as career exploration in marine veterinary science. 

The program will also include feeding and training sessions with sea lions and beluga whales and opportunities to assist veterinary staff in ongoing research investigations.

Lead professor Dr. Laura Thompson is a research scientist at the Mystic Aquarium and UConn assistant professor in residence of marine sciences. 

A great mentor and college admissions resource for students approaching college age, Dr. Thompson is most enthusiastic about helping participants understand the relationship between diving and health via the adaptation of marine animals’ immune systems.

GoBeyond Reef to Rainforest (Eastern Australia Coast)

We’re headed to the Land Down Under for this next three-week marine biology summer program. One of the most selective options, the GoBeyond Reef to Rainforest experience accepts only 12 students ages 15-18. 

The curriculum centers on environmental conservation and wildlife stewardship, while participants will embark on a series of water sports, cultural, and hiking adventures.

The journey commences in Sydney before the group travels to conduct Kuranda Rainforest service work. Projects involve monitoring re-vegetation plots, taking growth measurements, and planting trees. The late-night frog survey is always a favorite activity! 

Next, you’ll set off to Townsville Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary for opportunities to feed kangaroos, pet wombats, and observe koalas. 

The Great Barrier Reef trip, which follows, is the highlight of the summer program. One of the world’s most biologically diverse natural ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef is about half the size of Texas. Students will learn about severe threats the reef faces, including poor water quality from run-off, coastal development, and illegal fishing.

Bon Voyager at the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory (Dauphin Island, AL)

Why yes, you will find dolphins on Dauphin Island! Reptiles, birds, amphibians, and many more animals abound, and you’re sure to experience many viewing opportunities (from a safe distance). 

You’ll become an expert in the four main habitats of coastal Alabama: the Mobile Tensaw River Delta, the Barrier Islands, the Mobile Bay, and the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Spanning six days, the Bon Voyager program is open to rising 9th through 12th graders. Get out on the water aboard the DISL’s research boat, kayak through the local waters, and tramp through the salt marshes: Dauphin Island is home to multiple ecosystems. 

One of the most exciting parts of the program involves underwater robot design – after building your own underwater robot, you’ll test it in a competition among your peers’ creations!

Snorkeling, evening beach walks, and service projects are additional things to look forward to as part of Bon Voyage’s curriculum.

The Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab itself, where most of the programming takes place, is home to a 7,000-gallon stingray touch pool and houses 31 aquariums with more than 100 aquatic species. 

CIEE Ocean Conservation & Sustainability (Cape Town, South Africa)

Future conservationists will flock to this three-week summer marine biology program in Cape Town, South Africa, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Remember that this excursion takes place in the Southern hemisphere, but you’ll still enjoy all the beloved activities – like swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking – that warm weather brings.

The CIEE Ocean Conservation & Sustainability program highlights research opportunities focusing on African penguins and dolphins and a safari to the Aquila Private Game Reserve, where you’ll participate in wildlife tracking and projects aiming to reduce carbon footprints. 

In the mornings and afternoons, most of your time will be dedicated to community service, cultural immersion, and field research. 

At the SANCCOB Seabird Centre, for example, you’ll thaw fish to feed endangered seabirds. On other shore areas, you’ll forage for edible mushrooms, shellfish, roots, and seaweeds. 

Cornell Pre-College Studies: Shoals Marine Laboratory Programs for High School Students (Appledore Island, ME)

While Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors who engage in the Shoals Marine Laboratory program will travel to Appledore Island, Maine (about four hours south of the College of the Atlantic, featured previously). 

Pack your durable recreational attire, as this experience entails challenging hiking and outdoor observation excursions.

This marine biology summer program boasts an intimate student-to-faculty ratio between 5:1 and 8:1. 

Under the guidance of Cornell professors, participants will engage in independent and group research projects and other experiential learning opportunities. Two courses make up the core curriculum at Shoals: Marine Environmental Science and Introduction to the Biology of Sharks, Skates, and Rays.

In Marine Environmental Science, students conduct fieldwork within the rocky intertidal zone, observe seal colonies, and investigate whale foraging grounds. 

The Intro to Sharks, Skates, and Rays course challenges students to complete dissections and a range of exercises aboard a boat. Scholars can earn two Cornell University credits upon passing both classes!

SEA Education Association’s SEAScape: Ocean Studies on the Cape (Woods Hole, MA)

While the SEA Education Association hosts various enthralling programs, we think the SEAScape: Ocean Studies on the Cape is the best in-person option for high school students. 

Two two-and-a-half-week programs are open to that demographic, with each one encompassing laboratory research projects, field trips, and lectures focused on oceanography and modern maritime conflicts. 

In the Introduction to Oceanography course, scholars will closely examine marine organisms and evaluate seawater chemistry. 

Facilities like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, and National Marine Fisheries are excellent environments to gain proficiency in marine biology laboratory research skill development.

Within the Oceans & Society course, the curricular focus extends to investigations of how science and technology impact the relationship between society and the ocean. Ocean policymakers, fishing industry representatives, and expert mariners give guest lectures, and participants will also engage in various leadership training exercises.