Center for the Conservation of Marine Megafauna


Positioned in Central Europe and the western Balkans, Croatia stretches across multiple ecosystems. Continental grasslands with floodplains and hills form the interior, bordered by the Karstic Dinaric Mountain chain on the eastern side, which stretches down to the sparkling blue island-saturated coastline of the Adriatic Sea. Contested for centuries by different powers, Roman, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Italian, and Dubrovnik influences are all still visible in the culture, history, architecture, language, and cuisine. Croatia is a member state of the European Union and part of the Schengen Area and the Eurozone.


14 Weeks


18 Credits

Fall 2024

 Sep 1 - Dec 12

Filling Fast

Spring 2025

 Jan 30 - May 3





Room & Board:


Total Cost:


Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary:


semester PROGRAM

Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals of the Adriatic

Veli Lošinj, Croatia

Hosting rich biodiversity, diverse habitat types and cultural heritage sites, yet exposed to numerous human uses, the Croatian coast, islands, and sea are important from a Mediterranean perspective. This region is a great “natural laboratory” for studying and tackling the two interrelated conservation challenges of this age – biodiversity loss and climate change. Through lectures, seminars, group work in the field and in the lab, study visits, and community engagement, you will learn about challenges and opportunities to reconcile marine megafauna conservation with socio-economic demands and local traditions. You will explore dolphin and turtle conservation challenges, and their linkages to small island communities, large scale tourism, coastal and open sea habitats, local and industrial-scale fisheries, and other community and economic contexts. Thus, the knowledge and experience gained here is broadly applicable to other regions and contexts.

Program highlights:

  • Join the Adriatic Dolphin Project, one of the longest running dolphin research projects in the world, on the water to study bottlenose dolphin populations and conservation
  • Work alongside animal care and rehabilitation experts at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, gaining hands-on experience with husbandry and veterinary skills
  • Visit the Brijuni National Park to learn about the challenges of balancing conservation management with growing tourism
  • Trek through ancient olive groves on the islands of Cres and Lošinj, while learning about endemic Mediterranean flora and their traditional uses
  • Conduct a comprehensive field research project: Develop a research question, collect, and analyze data, write a paper, and present your findings. Read more about SFS Directed Research projects.


This academically rigorous program follows a five-day/week schedule. Each program combines theory learned during classroom sessions with field-based applications. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of balancing conservation with social and economic issues. Read more about the SFS program model. Major academic themes include:

  • Cetacean and sea turtle biology and ecology
  • Cetacean and sea turtle research and conservation methods
  • Regional conservation strategies and spatial planning
  • Protected areas and threatened ecosystems
  • Nature based solutions to biodiversity loss and climate change impacts
  • Systematic conservation planning and decision making
  • Veterinary investigations and diagnostics


You will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit language and culture course, and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. These are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, seminars, group work in the field and in the lab, assignments, tests, and research. All classes are taught in English. Click below to view a description and download the syllabus:

SFS 4910
Directed Research
SFS 2041
Croatian Language and Culture
SFS 3754
Rescue and Rehabilitation: Marine Animals
SFS 3024
Marine Conservation Planning
SFS 3722
Marine Megafauna Ecology

SFS 4910 Directed Research (4)

This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate facts from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including experimental design, field techniques, basic descriptive statistics, and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations. View Syllabus

SFS 2041 Croatian Language and Culture (2)

The Language and Culture course consists of Croatian society, history, and language. There will be an introduction to spoken Croatian and an exploration of local history and culture. While the primary focus is on Croatia, Adriatic regional history is also covered due to shared politics and culture. The Croatian language unit focuses on beginner-level listening and spoken language practice to improve communication and comprehension skills in everyday situations. Both units emphasize interaction with local communities through lectures, field visits, cultural events, and community outreach. Students engage in activities like workshops with local students, community events, and service projects. View Syllabus

SFS 3754 Rescue and Rehabilitation: Marine Animals (4)

This course focuses on the assessment of the health status of cetaceans and sea turtles as keystone species of the marine ecosystem. Fieldwork includes emergency interventions for rescuing and providing care of stranded, injured, or entangled dolphins and sea turtles. At our sea turtle rescue center, rehabilitation of sea turtles happens through the application of a therapeutic protocol established after a clinical evaluation of the individual through diagnostic tests. After taking samples, such as swabs and blood samples, turtles undergo therapy which includes treatment of injuries and/or medication administration. Students will experience the daily care requirements for the animals, monitoring their health status and recovery process. During recovery, various samples are taken for scientific research. Where recovery occurs, the individuals are tagged with flipper tags and may be satellite or GSM tagged for further tracking. In the case of dead strandings, post-mortem investigations are undertaken to assess potential causes of death. View Syllabus

SFS 3024 Marine Conservation Planning (4)

This course focuses on the techniques of integrating systematic conservation planning into a broader transboundary marine spatial plan placing local, national, and regional conservation efforts within the global context. We examine the means of mainstreaming marine conservation and marine protected areas into the broader blue economy. The Adriatic Sea is subject to numerous threats from anthropogenic use, particularly the 21st century threats of marine litter and noise pollution. Fisheries, transportation, energy, and tourism are all sectors that intersect with the conservation of regional species of concern. Students will investigate means to understand these conflict points for effective conservation within Croatia and the Adriatic. The aim of this course is to understand the critical viewpoints of relevant authorities and stakeholders and balancing the increasing demands of the blue economy with conservation requirements.   View Syllabus

SFS 3722 Marine Megafauna Ecology (4)

This course provides theoretical and practical knowledge and skills needed to undertake research and monitoring of marine megafauna species of conservation concern. Working with cetaceans and sea turtles as keystone species, all aspects of the process are covered, including the knowledge on their biology, ecology and threats, design of monitoring protocols and advanced methodologies, data handling and analysis, and interpretation of results and communication. Students gain experience in boat-based data collection (GPS tracking, photo-identification, tissue collection, theodolite, aerial surveys, UAVs, tagging), but also on independent lab work where students, under supervision, learn basic and advanced data handling and analysis techniques and software (MS Excel, R, GIS, mark-recapture, SOCPROG). View Syllabus

Core Skills

You will gain practical skills in the field such as: biodiversity assessments, population monitoring, animal behavior observation, GIS and mapping, biodiversity survey techniques, tag/recapture techniques, photoidentification, species management planning, research design and implementation, quantitative/qualitative data collection and analysis, scientific writing and communication, sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and husbandry techniques.

Field Sites

Based on the island of Lošinj, you will visit numerous different island ecosystems of the northern Dalmatian coast. Most of the fieldwork will be boat-based. SCUBA certification is not offered through this program.


Where You'll Be Living

The SFS Center for the Conservation of Marine Megafauna is located on the northern most archipelago of the Croatian islands on the outskirts of the village of Veli Lošinj. Veli Lošinj has restaurants, artisan shops, ATMs, a market, and a busy summer tourist season. The Center is situated in an old garden forest with a view of the Kvarnerić archipelago islands and Northern Velebit Nature Park. Only 4 km away is Mali Lošinj, the largest Croatian island city, with multiple shops, banks, and a hospital. The accommodation is dorm-living with heating, four-person rooms with bathroom.

  • Classroom with library
  • Student lounge
  • Open-air terrace
  • Food provided onsite
  • Running and cycling routes along the coast and through the old garden forest
  • Basketball court and outdoor gym


Program Costs

Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:

  • Pre-program advising and on-site orientation
  • Tuition and research fees
  • Housing at the field station and on excursions
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers (for arrival/departure)
  • Field excursions and cultural activities
  • Student success and wellness team on site
  • 24/7 mental health and well-being support
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Official transcript processing

View Croatia Program Costs

Financial Aid

We know cost can be one of the biggest barriers to studying abroad. At SFS, we’re committed to making our programs accessible to students which is why we award a generous amount in need-based financial aid each year. Our Admissions Team has worked with thousands of students and are here to answer your questions about the SFS aid process, aid available through your home school, and funding from external sources.
SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.

Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.

External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Learn More about Financial Aid




The SFS Center for the Conservation of Marine Megafauna is a partnership between SFS and the Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation (BWI), a non-governmental organization working on the Adriatic since 2000. Research is primarily boat-based and focuses on cetaceans and sea turtles both of which are important indicator species for the health of marine environments and the impacts of climate change. Faculty work with government partners, community members, NGOs, and other key stakeholders. Our faculty and students seek to analyze and develop strategies to understand the status of target species, identify threats, and support marine and coastal conservation initiatives in the Adriatic Sea.

Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Cetacean and sea turtle ecology
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Marine spatial planning and regional conservation
  • Systematic conservation planning and decision making
  • Cetaceans and sea turtles rescue procedures
  • Sea turtle rehabilitation and husbandry practices.
  • Veterinary investigations and diagnostics


Veli Lošinj, Croatia

Formally established in 2000, the BWI is an active part of the local community. We have built long-term, collaborative relationships in the community, developed our research plans based on the environmental issues that affect the surrounding ecosystems and regional sea.

In 2003, the BWI constructed the Lošinj marine education center in the harbor of Veli Lošinj which quickly became a focal point for education and community involvement. In 2013, we opened our turtle rescue center in Sunny Bay, Mali Lošinj, expanding our research to include veterinary sciences.

At the end of each semester program, we host a Community Research Night where students present their research findings to various members of the community, local NGOs, and the Croatian government.


Meet the Croatia Team

Draško Holcer, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Marine Conservation Planning
Meet Draško

Grgur Pleslić, Ph.D.

Resident lecturer in Marine Megafauna Conservation Ecology, Blue World Institute
Meet Grgur

Bojan Lazar, Ph.D.

Marine Conservation Biologist
Meet Bojan

Tina Belaj

Veterinarian and Lecturer in Rescue and Rehabilitation: Marine Animals
Meet Tina

Andrea Borić

Marine Education Center Manager
Meet Andrea