Sustainable Akumal: Turtles, Tourists, Cenotes and Coral Reefs

CFAN 3522

Program Dates:

January 1 - January 20, 2019 

This is an embedded course with on-campus class time during fall semester prior to departure. Students must both register for this course, and complete the study abroad application. 

Application Deadline:
October 8, 2018*

*This program has extended its application deadline through Monday, October 8th.  Students that apply after October 1 will need to work with our travel agent to book their own flights, and the total program fee is subject to change based on the final flight cost.  Please contact with any questions and for flight booking instructions. 

Course Dates:

This course meets from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Friday for the last 6 weeks of fall semester (October 26 to December 14), leading up to the group's time in Mexico.

Apply Here



Spend your winter break on the warm shores of the Mexican Riviera learning about sustainable tourism and coastal ecology. Akumal, a small town an hour south of Cancun, means “the place of the turtle” in Mayan, and its bays with crystal clear waters are a favorite spot for sea turtles to nest. The Mexican Caribbean, particularly the Riviera Maya, has experienced 70 times an increase in tourism over the past 30 years. This rapid increase in tourism has disrupted the nesting turtles as well as other plants and animals native to this area.

This program explores the complex problems of the impact of tourism and development on coral reefs, marine life, water quality and other habitats. You will learn about responsible tourism and sustainable development through field based projects and experiencing the water, land, flora and fauna firsthand. You will learn and experience coastal and marine ecology in the context of tourism and development. Observe sea turtles in their habitat while working on beach habitat restoration. Test the water quality in lagoons and cenotes to understand complex issues surrounding groundwater and freshwater in this region. Snorkel the crystal blue waters to see the coral reef ecology and identify species of fish. Visit mangroves, seagrass communities and hike into lush tropical forests. Experience Mexican history and culture by visiting Mayan ruins and spending time in local communities.


CFAN 3522 - 3.0 credits

This course meets from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Friday for the last 6 weeks of fall semester (October 26 to December 14), and will spend almost 3 weeks in Akumal, Mexico over winter break. Location for the on-campus classes will be posted soon. Students must both register for this course, and complete the study abroad application. 

The Course Syllabus will be posted soon.


This program is a great fit for students interested in field based learning and requires a moderate level of physical activity. You must feel very comfortable swimming in open water as snorkeling is a part of program activities.

Students interested in sustainable development, responsible tourism, marine biology, conservation, environmental management, water quality, coastal ecology, and/or similar topics will really enjoy this course.


First Step Sessions give basic information about programs, services, and resources available through the Learning Abroad Center. You do not have to reserve your spot, just show up to 230 Heller Hall, West Bank. You can also complete the First Step Session online

Please note: Because we cover so much information in a short period of time, if you are more than 5 minutes late you will have to attend a different First Step Session.




The program fee includes orientation, airfare, international health insurance, lodging, excursions, and most meals. In the event that you are not a full time student, or are a non-University of Minnesota student, you will also be charged for tuition. The cost of this program will be considered as part of your fall semester cost of attendance for financial aid calculations. You are eligible to apply for Winter Break scholarships and grants for this program.

Grants and scholarships at CFANS


October 26: Orientation to the course, logistics, expectations, planning, forms

November 2: Introduction to Quintana Roo, Mexico, the Caribbean and Rivera Maya – population, development, geography, tourism and brief history. Introduction to the IDI.

November 9: Introduction to the biota – taxonomy and identification of plants and inverts

November 16: Taxonomy, identification and ecology of marine vertebrates

November 30: Pool snorkel session – orientation to snorkeling and skills test (students needing more work/assistance will participate in a second session)

December 7: Mayan history, cultural awareness, out-of-country experiences and expectations

December 14: Final ID quiz, embedded wrapup and departure planning.

Please contact the program leader Raymond Newman if you have questions or concerns about the course.


Raymond Newman Distinguished Teaching Professor, FWCB Undergrad Major Coordinator Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology 

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