The SFS Center for

Marine Resource Studies

Turks & Caicos Islands


Turks & Caicos Islands

The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies is a leading destination for students looking to immerse themselves in marine studies. Students and faculty at the Center work in collaboration with the South Caicos community and TCI authorities to conserve diverse marine resources and establish a sustainable economy for island residents. The Center is located in close proximity to coral reefs, uninhabited cays, mangroves, seagrass beds, and shallow shoals, offering abundant snorkel and dive sites as well as opportunities for a variety of research.

Issues we focus on


Semester Program

Marine Resource Studies

Snorkeling and scuba diving in the clear waters surrounding South Caicos, students learn field research and monitoring techniques to measure and assess the island’s wide diversity of marine organisms and habitats, while assessing the rights and needs of community stakeholders. Learn More
Spring 2018

In The Field

January 29 - May 9

Fall 2018


August 27 - December 5

Spring 2019


January 28 - May 8

Combine sessions and spend the summer with SFS!
Summer Session I

Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management

Explore the conservation of tropical marine ecosystems and come away prepared to conduct marine research. Learn More
Summer 2018

Filling Fast

June 4 - July 4

Summer Session II

Applied Marine Research Techniques

The spectacular reefs and turquoise waters of South Caicos serve as laboratories for research and field work in this summer session. Learn More
Summer 2018

Filling Fast

July 9 - August 8

TCI SFS Web (81) 1

Who We Are

The Center is led by research scientist and faculty member Dr. Heidi Hertler. Dr. Hertler completed her Ph.D. at Drexel University. She has been studying the relationships between land use and coastal marine systems, including mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs in TCI since 2011. The Center’s faculty includes Aaron Henderson, Ph.D. (Marine Ecology), Kathy Baier-Lockhart, M.S., SFS Alumna (Marine Resource Management) and Nadia Rubio-Cisneros, Ph.D. (Environmental Policy).

Featured Alumna

Ellen George

SFS Turks & Caicos Spring '09

My semester abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands with SFS definitely helped me get where I am today.

As a fisheries research technician for the U.S. Geological Survey based at the Great Lakes Science Center, you’ll find me driving a 28-foot research boat out on the water for most of the year. I conduct larval fish tows, which is collecting the tiny baby fish swimming at the surface, and I do demersal egg sampling, or gathering eggs that fish are depositing on the riverbed. Our team also builds…


Our Research

The charismatic fauna of the Turks and Caicos Islands include more than 300 species of fish, many elasmobranchs such as the spotted eagle ray and lemon shark, as well as sea turtles and humpback whales. Seagrass beds, mangroves, sandy shoals and reefs lend a patchwork appearance to the shallow blue water around our Center. Most local residents depend upon marine resources for their livelihoods, and tourism has placed increased strain upon these resources.

Research at the Center for Marine Resource Studies focuses on documenting the current status of local marine resources as well as the social and economic conditions of South Caicos, and quantifying any changes that may occur. The Center shares its research findings through local media, meetings and technical reports, facilitating increased environmental awareness among stakeholders and enabling local policymakers to make scientifically based decisions for management of local resources.

Through this research completed by faculty and students, several key research topics are addressed, and the exploration of these topics adds to both the local and global corpus of scientific knowledge.


Key Research Examples
  • Ecological and social impacts of climate change and ocean acidification
  • Density and distribution of invasive lionfish
  • Coral reef ecology, including growth, survival, and recruitment
  • Interactions between mangrove, seagrass, and reef faunal communities
  • Local livelihood strategies and human capital, including perceptions of tourism and fishing industries
  • Impact of youth empowerment through marine-oriented citizen science
Select Publications

Henderson, A., Jourdan, A., & Bell, K. (2016). Assessing the incidental value of a marine reserve to a lemon shark Negaprion brevirostris nursery. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 26(3), 482-491.

Baker, S., Paddock, J., Smith, A. M., Unsworth, R. K. F., Cullen-Unsworth, L. C., & Hertler, H. (2015). An ecosystems perspective for food security in the Caribbean: Seagrass meadows in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Ecosystem Services, 11, 12-21.

Hind, E. J., Alexander, S. M., Green, S. J., Kritzer, J. P., Sweet, M. J., Johnson, A. E., Amargós, F. P., Smith, N. S., & Peterson, A. M. (2015). Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states. Frontiers in Marine Science, 86(2), 1-7.

Tilley, A., Carter, E., Wassermann^, S., & López-Angarita, J. (2015). Enhancing management effectiveness of invasive lionfish using distance sampling and detection probability. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.


My choice to study abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I never thought I would have such incredible experiences doing research, but here the ocean is our lab and it’s truly surreal.

Kayla Anderson
University of Richmond, SFS Turks & Caicos Fall '16
TCI SFS Web (4) ResearchTCI SFS Web (47) COMMUNITY

Community Collaboration

The community of South Caicos has hosted SFS for more than 25 years. During that time, staff and students have integrated into the small community on multiple levels. We are dedicated to helping the community conserve its natural resources and develop sustainably, and enjoy being a part of the Caribbean culture and island lifestyle of South Caicos. Students tutor and mentor local children, provide swimming and snorkeling lessons and lead a ‘research club’ to teach marine biology. Collaborative efforts with local NGOs have led to beach clean-ups and other service projects, and open research presentations provide an opportunity for the Center to share its findings with members of the community.

Local Community Partners

  • Department of Environment and Coastal Resources
  • Local fishers
  • Ministry of Education and local schools
  • TCReef Fund
  • TCI National Trust, National Parks, and National Museum
  • South Caicos community groups

Contributing to the Community

  • Lobster, conch, and finfish stock assessments; important information allowing government agencies to establish sustainable fishing rules and guidelines
  • Baseline and longitudinal data on reef health trends, species interactions, and impacts of coral diseases
  • Training for TCI government officials on coral reefs, lobster biology, marine fishes, turtles, and sharks through a natural resource workshop with DEMA
  • Protocols for coral reef monitoring and queen conch distribution, developed in collaboration with DEMA and local businesses

Life at the Center


The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies is located just steps from a crystal clear ocean classroom, adjacent to Cockburn Harbour and the island’s 1,200 residents. Our field station sits about 40 feet above the water, looking directly out to sea. Within a three-mile radius are coral reefs, mangrove islands, sea grass beds, and carbonate platform flats offering abundant snorkel and dive sites.

Field Station

  • Students live in two residence wings with 4-6 students per suite
  • Kitchen and open-air dining area
  • Classroom and computer room
  • Veranda with spectacular ocean views
  • In-ground sea water pool
  • Docks with fleet of boats
  • Dive shed with tanks and weights for scuba diving
  • Easy walk into town