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Oceans, Humans & Environmental Health

Investigating interactions between human and environmental health at the Duke Marine Lab and the University de San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador.

Oceans, Humans and Environmental Health embraces the idea that the health of animals, people, and the environment are connected. This Duke Immerse program will focus on human interactions with the ocean and study how those interactions in turn affect human health and food security, as well as the ecosystem services and critical habitat the marine environment provides.   

Marine IguanaThis immersive semester-long experience teaches students the fundamentals of evaluating the health of the natural environment and will include measuring environmental factors and organismal biomarkers that serve as health indicators (e.g. chlorophyll a, nutrients, marine biodiversity, fecal coliforms, pollutants, toxicological biomarkers). In addition to developing a scientific understanding of human and environmental health, this semester will expand students’ understanding of human well-being, health, environmental justice, access to resources, and environmental policy.  Please note: Students will be on-site at the Duke Marine Lab for the semester (when they are not travelling to the Galapagos islands for the field experience). Information about the Duke Marine Lab can be found here.

This semester will be divided into three main parts:  

  1. North Carolina field experiences and laboratory exercises, contextualizing the process of measuring environmental health. Students will engage with the North Carolina Coastal Federation and tour restored wetlands. 

  2. A 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with field experiences to understand biodiversity and the protection of this unique environment. Students will have direct interactions with environmental sciences undergraduate students at the University de San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador with both Duke Marine Lab and faculty providing guest lectures and undergraduates from both institutions working together to explore similarities and differences in perception, regulation, and environmental water quality.

  3. Faculty-guided team projects. Possible topics include marine mammals as integrators of human and environmental health, the role of non-governmental organizations in setting environmental policy, or the environmental impacts of microplastics in the oceans.  


Locations: Duke Marine Lab (Beaufort, NC); Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Term: Fall 2023

Dates: August 2023 – December 2023, specific dates forthcoming

Application Deadline: April 10, 2023

Academic Themes: Environmental Science, Biology, Global Health, Marine Science

Eligibility: Students must have taken WRITING 101; non-Duke students matriculated at Duke are eligible for this program. It’s recommended that students have taken Intro to Biology and Intro to Chemistry.

Program Fee

$1,500; Duke provides additional grant aid to cover the cost of any course fee for all students receiving financial aid. The course fee is in addition to tuition, room and board. Contact Duke’s Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support ( for more information.


Course numbers: BIO 373LA
Curriculum codes: NS,R, W
Course Description: Sensory physiological principles with emphasis on visual and chemical cues. Laboratories will use behavior to measure physiological processes.
Instructors: Daniel Rittschof, Ph.D. 

Course numbers: BIOLOGY 308A, ENVIRON 308A, GLHLTH 308A, MARSCI 308A
Curriculum codes: CCI, N, STS 
Course Description: This course will tie human and environmental health concerns explicitly to environmental water quality and disease transmission as well as the ecosystem services provided by marine environments that are valuable to both human and environmental health. For example, while sensitive to human impacts such as overfishing and eutrophication, coral reefs provide ecosystem services in the form of tourism, fisheries, storm protection and recreation while also providing critical habitat for marine organisms.
Instructors: Dana E. Hunt, Ph.D.

Course numbers: ENVIRON 573A
Curriculum codes: NS, STS 
Course Description: Sources, fate, and effects of organic, inorganic, and particulate pollutants in the marine environment. Topics include oil spills, coastal eutrophication, marine debris, harmful algae, sewage contamination, dredging, and emerging contaminants. Methods for measuring pollution in the marine environment and consequences for human and ecological health will be discussed. Case studies of impacted marine environments will be highlighted. Short local field trips possible. 
Instructors: P. Lee Ferguson, Ph.D.

Course numbers: TBD
Curriculum codes: TBD
Course Description: TBD
Instructors: TBD

Lead Faculty

Dana Hunt

Dana Hunt, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Microbial Ecology, Nicholas School of the Environment & Duke Marine Lab

P. Lee Ferguon

P. Lee Ferguson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment & Chemistry

Grant Murray

Grant Murray, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Marine Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment & Duke Marine Lab

Dan Rittschof

Dan Rittschof, Ph.D.

Norm L. Christensen Professor of Environmental Science, Nicholas School of the Environment, Biology & Duke Marine Lab

Program contacts: Email Dana Hunt ( or Duke Immerse ( for more information.


All students who are interested, regardless of documentation or citizenship status, are encouraged to apply; accommodations and opportunities will be made for students who are unable to travel internationally due to visa issues.
We welcome Durham based DKU students and UNC Robertson Scholars to apply. Please email Duke Immerse director ( if you are interested in participating. Complete the online application using MyExperientialEd.