Learning Abroad Center
close up of a turtle taken underwater

Sustainable Akumal: Turtles, Tourists, Cenotes, & Coral Reefs


This program explores indigenous environmental knowledge, coastal marine ecology, and water resource management through an interdisciplinary approach.

This program is administered by the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences' Office of International Programs. Applications are processed by the Learning Abroad Center.

Program Details

Akumal, Mexico
Winter Break (Fall semester on campus)
Languages Taught In
Languages Taught In
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Program Eligibility

Student Type
Student Type
UofM Students
Non UofM Students
Student Year
Student Year


Spend Winter Break on the sunny 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 plants and other animals native to this area.

This program explores the impact of tourism and development on coral reefs, marine life, water quality, and other habitats. Learn about responsible tourism and sustainable development through field-based projects. Experience coastal and marine ecology in the context of tourism and development. Observe sea turtles in their nesting and feeding habitat while working on beach habitat restoration. Test the water quality in lagoons and cenotes to understand complex issues surrounding groundwater and fresh water 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.

Listen to Ray Newman, program leader, talk more about this program here.

COVID-19 Modifications 

The program will comply with local public health recommendations as well as recommended standards of the University of Minnesota. This may include modifications to the program calendar, weekly schedule, classroom environment, course delivery, housing arrangements, transportation policies, and/or in-country travel restrictions.

Program Model

Experiential Learning

Housing & Meals

You will stay at the Tortuga Escondida Residency Center, located in the jungle several kilometers outside of Akumal. A pool, internet, study areas, and air conditioning are provided; housing is dormatory style. All meals are included within the program dates. 

Application Deadline

September 23, 2022

Program Dates

Depart from Minneapolis-Saint Paul: December 27, 2022
Arrive in Mexico: December 27, 2022
Depart from Mexico: January 15, 2023

These dates are tentative. 


You are required to take 2 courses as part of this program.

CFAN 3422: Introduction to Sustainable Akumal (1 credit; Fall B term 2022, Fridays from 3:00 - 5:00 pm)

This is a required prerequisite course. It will introduce students to the literature, concepts, and skills (including snorkeling) needed to thrive in CFAN 3522. The course time and location have yet to be determined

CFAN 3522: Sustainable Akumal (3 credits; Winter Break 2022-23, approved for the Global Perspectives heme and the Environment Theme, syllabus)

The aim of this course is to introduce students to coastal systems and coastal ecology, the effects of tourism and development on these systems, and potential strategies to promote sustainable development and tourism and mitigate impacts.  Specifically, we will cover the karst geology, underground rivers, and cenotes of the region, their connection to and ecology of lagoons and mangroves. We will assess coastal beaches and sea turtle nesting habitats and the nearshore seagrass communities that support juvenile loggerheads and green turtles. We will study nearshore and deeper reef systems and how these are affected by increasing development and tourism, directly and via nutrient input and strategies used to reduce and mitigate development and waste impacts.   Finally, we will introduce students to ancient Mayan history, ruins, and culture, and how these relate to contemporary development in the region that attempts to capitalize on that history; resultant conflicts between established entrepreneurs, ecologically minded ex-pats, local Mestizo worker communities, a long-established ecological center, and recent tourism developments will be explored. Students will also learn how to conduct projects that address issues of concern to local researchers, managers, and the community. Working in small teams you will tackle a specific topic related to your interests and expertise and present the results to colleagues, local scientists, managers, and community members. 

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. Students interested in developing their disciplinary expertise (e.g., water quality, marine biology, GIS/landscape mapping, social science, fisheries) in an interdisciplinary context are especially desired.

Program Leader

Raymond Newman Distinguished Teaching Professor, Marine Biology Undergrad Minor Coordinator, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology 

Florencia Pech Cardenas PhD Candidate, Natural Resource Sciences and Management, Department of Forest Resources


Excursions include visits to Xel-Ha National Park, Tulum and Coba archeological sites, Yal Ku Lagoon, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, several bays and beaches, wetlands and cenotes.  

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 in the ocean and cenotes is a regular part of program activities. Prior snorkelling experience is a plus. Scuba diving is an option for students who are SCUBA certified (at an additional cost).

More Information

Contact Shelly Fisher from the CFANS Office of International Programs at [email protected] with your questions. 


Program Fee

Program Fee Forthcoming

The program fee includes tuition for CFAN 3522, round-trip group flight airfare, airport transfers, in-country program-related transportation, housing, all meals in-country, entrances to course-related excursions and site visits, program administration, and international health insurance. Checked luggage fees are not included in the program fee. 

Billing & Payments

The application fee, deposit, and program fee are charged to the student's UMN account. 

Financial Aid & Scholarships

The College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences offers grants for study abroad programs; learn more here. Students can learn about financial aid and scholarships through the Learning Abroad Center here.

Cancellation Policy

All applicants are charged a $50 non-refundable application fee by the Learning Abroad Center. Students who confirm their participation in the program will have charged to their student account a $750 non-refundable deposit. Confirmed students who cancel their application before October 7 are responsible for the non-refundable deposit. Confirmed students who cancel their application on October 7 or later are responsible for the non-refundable deposit and any non-recoverable fees. 

In the event that the CFANS Office of International Programs (OIP) is forced to cancel this program, accepted and confirmed students will receive a full refund of their application fee and deposit. 

Students have the option to appeal the CFANS OIP cancelation policy when canceling from a program for extenuating circumstances. Please refer to the Learning Abroad Center's refund appeal process for details. 

Please note: In the near future COVID vaccine requirements may be instituted by specific countries and/or airlines without advance notice. Vaccination gives you the best chance for participation in a program and will keep open the most travel options. 

The inability to participate in a program because of local, national, or airline restrictions if you are not vaccinated but are eligible to be vaccinated will not be considered a valid reason for a refund.

Winter Break 2021-22

Sustainable Akumal: Turtles, Tourists, Cenotes and Coral Reefs

Winter Break 2022

Program Fee

  • UofM students pay program fee instead of on-campus tuition & fees while abroad
  • Billed through UofM account
Non-refundable deposit $750
Tuition and educational costs $2,650
International health insurance $50
Housing and/or meals $1,325
Transportation (if required and included in program fee) $765
Total Program Fee $5,540
Program discount for University of Minnesota and Big Ten students, if applicable $0
Total Program Fee with discount, if applicable $5,540

Estimated Additional Expenses

  • Financial aid-eligible but not included in program fee
Costs Typically Incurred Prior to Departure These costs may need to be paid before your financial aid is disbursed for your term abroad.
Transportation to and from program siteChecked bag fees $60
Passport/photos $150
Visa/required documents $0
Travel clinic/immunizations*Cost of required re-entry COVID-19 test included in the program fee $0
Housing deposit $0
Total Estimated Cost Incurred Prior to Departure $210
Costs Typically Incurred After Arrival in Host Country
Texts/materialsSnokel, mask, fins, underwater camera or waterproof phone case, and additional course materials $400
Housing and/or meals not included in program feeAll onsite meals and housing are included in the program fee $0
Essential daily living expenses $50
Total Estimated Cost Incurred After Arrival in Host Country $450

Total Estimated Cost of Participation

  • UofM students—compare this to your estimated on campus cost of attendance
Total Estimated Cost of Participation $6,200
Spending money and personal travel Not included in financial aid calculation $100
Additional Notes & Information
* Immunizations Note: This estimate is based on approximate cost of travel-related vaccinations and medications required for entry or recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your costs may be higher or lower depending on your travel clinic, the specific immunizations and medication prescribed, and your insurance coverage.


Complete pre-application advising.

Due to COVID-19, current US passport processing times are significantly delayed. If you do not have a passport, or your passport expires less than 6 months after your return date from your time abroad, apply for a new passport now, and pay for expedited processing.


The COVID-19 vaccine and booster are required by the host country and/or on-site partners and facilities for most study abroad programs. Complete your COVID-19 vaccine doses immediately.

You will be charged a $50 application fee for each application you submit.

Apply Now


When you submit your online application, you will be assigned an application checklist that includes:

  • First Step session
  • University of Minnesota Student Release and Waiver Form

Detailed descriptions and instructions for submitting each checklist item are included on the application checklist.

Next Steps

  1. You will receive an automated email message indicating your application was received.
  2. Follow the instructions on your application checklist to submit the Student Release and Waiver Form.
  3. Your application is not considered complete until the form has been received and you have completed the First Step module. Your completed application will be forwarded to the program leader in the sponsoring college/department for review.
  4. The program leader will notify the Learning Abroad Center of acceptance decisions. If accepted, you will be notified via email and assigned a confirmation checklist, which includes:
    • Health Information Form
    • Confirmation and Payment Agreement
    • Online Health & Safety Orientation
  5. Login to the online application to review the confirmation checklist and submit the required items.
  6. Once you submit all items, your participation will be confirmed and your student account will be billed for the program deposit.
  7. If you decide not to continue with the application process, log into the online application and submit a Cancel Request. You must also notify your program leader of your cancellation.