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Marine & coastal biology field course

Location: Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland

Course leader: Dr Julia Ferrari

Find out more about this module


During the first three days of the course, you'll lay the groundwork for your later research, developing your identification and ecological sampling skills, and learning to recognise the most common coastal organisms. There'll be opportunities for watching birds and seals and detecting bats, as well as a boat trip and trawl to find sublittoral marine organisms.

The second half of the course will be spent conducting your own research projects in pairs. You'll also have some free time to spend as you wish - you could cycle round the island and take in the views, spend some time on the beach or just relax in the on-site common room or the local bars and pubs!


The field course takes place at FSC Millport, where you'll also be staying. The FSC provides accommodation in one new and one recently refurbished building - you'll stay in twin rooms with en-suite bathrooms, and about half of the rooms have a sea view. The FSC also provide food, which is sustainably sourced when possible and can accommodate special dietary requirements.

The best thing about the course was the combination of scientific work with the joy of a holiday. It was a great expedition rather than just a trip. It was a life changing experience.

Examples of research projects

  • Crypsis in juvenile shore crabs: Juvenile shore crabs come in a range of colour morphs. Are these morphs adapted to the substrate on their local shore and better protected from predation?
  • Hopping orientation in sandhoppers: Sandhoppers are small crustaceans that live on the upper shore. Which environmental cues do they use to determine hopping directions? Does this depend on the orientation of their native beach?
  • Morphology of intertidal snails depending on environmental conditions: Organisms experience a variety of stresses on different shores around the island, for example some shores are more exposed than others. Have snails adapted to these conditions and is this reflected in their morphology (e.g. shell shape).
  • Zonation on the shore: Do periwinkles have a preferred zone on the shore. Do they move to their original location when translocated?
  • Adaptation to environmental conditions: Intertidal organisms face a range of extreme conditions, including the threat of desiccation when the tide is out or fluctuations in salinity. How do different animals react to these changes in terms of behaviour? Does their original position on the shore influence this response?