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Study information

Azores Field Course

Module titleAzores Field Course
Module codeBIO3423
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Richard Sherley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This field course has been designed to complement the taught components of years one and two, expose you to a fantastic array of marine life and give you first-hand experience of research in the pelagic regions of the Atlantic. The Azores are an under-explored marine paradise that were formed by volcanic activity along the Mid Atlantic Ridge as recently as 250,000 years ago (Pico island). Their location, 1000 miles off the coast of Portugal, mean they are a magnet for migrating and pelagic species alike and home to many charismatic resident ones. Amazingly, 27 species of cetacean including 5 species of dolphin, large aggregations of sperm whales and the largest mammal in the world, the blue whale, are all visitors to the Azores.

Our learning on this field course will be delivered on boats, in laboratories and in learning space owned and operated by the University of the Azores who are collaborators on the trip. Exeter staff will guide content but you will also work with and be taught by experts in Azorean marine biology from the host University during the trip. You will gain first-hand experience of the skills required for a career in marine biology or field-based biology such as oceanography, stock assessment of commercial fish populations, cetacean, seabird and elasmobranch monitoring, fieldwork in biosphere habitats, island biogeography and marine plastic collection and quantification.

The University and field course organisers are committed to reducing the impact of climate change and are seeking low carbon alternatives to our travel wherever possible. We believe it is more important than ever to educate students on the impact of climate change and anthropogenic impacts on marine life in areas of rich marine diversity such as the Azores so while it is still possible to travel here, we chose to. It is important to point out that choosing a location in Europe where we study marine life is a positive step to reducing carbon footprint. We are able to limit travel whilst on the Azores by carrying out most of our learning on a single island and travelling in groups.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, e.g., wetsuit/snorkelling equipment, walking boots, rucksack, sleeping bag and binoculars.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop your scientific knowledge and understanding of marine biology and conservation in a location that offers a window into of the challenges and future that our oceans face. We will cover:

  • Oceanographic techniques for the study of seafloor bathymetry
  • Island biogeography and dispersal
  • Observation, data collection, discussion sessions and data synthesis based on a range of activities conducted on land and in water
  • Individual research project on a given species or group of animals/plants
  • Communicating science to a wide audience
  • Acquiring skills and experience required to pursue a career in marine biology or conservation

 The skills you gain from fieldwork, teamwork, working with unfamiliar biodiversity, and problem-solving, will all stand you in good stead for careers in any scientific sector by developing or enhancing your employability.

Transferrable skills to other sectors include:

  • Problem-solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems, data handling),
  • Time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group),
  • Collaboration (taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work),
  • Self and peer review (taking responsibility for own learning, using feedback from multiple sources)

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by Exeter staff such as oceanography, island biogeography and marine vertebrates ecology as well as those specific to the Azores offered by local researchers. Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the mini research projects and sourcing material for your factsheet and subsequent discussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a broad understanding of Atlantic Ocean functioning including its currents, marine vertebrates, commercial fisheries and pollution
  • 2. Observe species within the sublittoral zone of a volcanic seamount
  • 3. Discuss management of marine vertebrate populations and how they can be studied in the Atlantic Ocean

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 10. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 13. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 14. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Preparatory lectures will be scheduled in terms 2 and 3.

A typical field course will run for 8-10 days in early September and will be based on Faial. Here we take part in cetacean-monitoring, snorkelling trips, baited-remote underwater video deployment, and laboratory work, and collect data for research projects. You will receive scheduled learning activities at field locations and on the University of the Azores campus facilities here.  You will be involved in scheduled activities e.g. lectures from staff, professional researchers and in-country conservation NGO personnel, practical sessions on sampling methods and collecting data, and discussion sessions on relevant topics. As part of your involvement in the module you will undertake a small group research project, under the guidance of academic staff, in order for you to implement all that you have learned.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching5Pre-field course lectures to prepare you academically and practically for the course and assessments
Scheduled learning and teaching103Field-based tutoring from members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in and the University of the Azores
Scheduled learning and teaching5Discussions led by in-country conservation experts (researchers and NGO staff)
Guided independent study187Additional reading and research and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the field courseOngoing throughout the module1-14Oral
Seminars and discussionsContinuous assessment during the field course1-14Oral
On-field course group experimental design exercise30 minutes4-14Feedback sheet

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Pre-field course factsheet302 sides of A41, 4-5, 8-14Feedback sheet
Post-field course project poster40A3 poster1-11Feedback sheet
Post-field course spatial data analysis and visualisation assessment302 sides of A4 containing 1 map and 1 graph created using R with text outline of steps performed and results5-7, 9-11Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Pre-field course factsheetFactsheet (2 sides of A4)1, 4-5, 8-14Referral/deferral period
Post-field course project posterPost-field course project poster (A3 poster)1-11Referral/deferral period
Post-field course spatial data analysis and visualisation assessment2 sides of A4 containing 1 map and 1 graph created using R with text outline of steps performed and results5-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination and/or re-submit a further factsheet and/or poster. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Sarmiento (Ed) (2017) Ocean Biogeochemical dynamics
  • Pickard (2013) Descriptive Physical Oceanography: An Introduction
  • Probert (2017) Marine Conservation. Cambridge
  • Whittaker (2007) Island Biogeography: ecology, evolution and conservation
  • Kaiser et al. (2020) Marine Ecology: Processes, Systems, and Impacts (3rd Edition)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE page

Key words search

Azores, BIO3423, marine biology, cetacean monitoring, marine plastics, oceanography

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO2426 Analysis of Biological Data

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date