Natural History Field Course

General Information

Course Dates: 18 August - 1 September 2017

Course Code: BIOLOGY 3013 X1 – 3 CREDIT HOURS


This Acadia University course is taught entirely on Bon Portage Island (BP), off the southern tip of Nova Scotia. If you are an Acadia student, you will preferably have taken Organisms and their Environment I (BIOL 1113); any other ecology you have taken will help. If you are a non-Acadia student, equivalent course backgrounds are recommended. In either case, permission will likely be granted for biology students who love the outdoors and have a reasonable academic record. You should also be in GOOD physical condition because there's a lot of walking, often on cobble beaches and through dense forest.

Course Description

The official text you are REQUIRED to bring is a field guide to your favourite organisms (e.g, algae, seashore invertebrates, plants, insects, birds, mammals); these organisms can be the focus of your major project. Browse the nature section of any bookstore, or surf the web to find what you want. The Peterson field guide series is a good standard against which to measure the quality of guide you should acquire.

The course gives you hands-on, outdoor experience with plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates in marine pelagic, intertidal, brackish, and terrestrial habitats.

In brief, the coordinating instructor introduces you to the Island and its facilities. In consultation with the coordinating instructor, you will design and carry out a scientific investigation that you will run whenever you have free time during the 2 weeks. After the first 2 days, a different instructor comes on the Island around supper time, and often gives a talk the first night to introduce their topic. Part of the next day is spent in contact with the instructor's favourite organisms. After that, you usually do some sort of project outdoors. The next instructor appears after 2 days, until you have had a total of 5 modules. You will be evaluated based on projects, reports, presentations, enthusiasm of your participation, and whatever else the instructors decide. Some additional reference materials may be made available.


The course is offered in the last week of August, however, it is included as a fall semester course. This results in substantial savings in tuition, but means you won't see your mark until December. The base cost per student covers meals, accommodation, and boat transportation.

Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis for students in Atlantic Canada, following which vacancies may be filled by students from other geographic areas.

Students who withdraw from the course before 9 August 2017 will forfeit $75 of their fees; withdrawals after this date will forfeit all fees.

Non-Acadia Students

Contact the Admissions Office to acquire a student number. Once you have that, contact Lisa to register. Non-Acadia students must also provide proof of extended medical coverage (e.g., Blue Cross, Great West Life, etc.) to cover emergency ambulance services, prescription drugs, and if possible, medical evacuation costs.

Non-Acadia students will also need to have an official transcript sent, and a "Letter of Permission" so that credit for the course will be transferred back to their home institution (costs for transcripts and Letters of Permission vary by institution). Finally, so that there is somewhere to record your mark from the course, you need to apply to Acadia University (an additional $25).

Final course grades will be submitted to the Registrar's office as soon as possible following completion of the course. Grades will not be available to students until December.


The Island is home to the Evelyn and Morrill Richardson Field Station in Biology. Visitors arrive at a slip that is at about the halfway point on the inland side of the Island. Nearby are two bunkhouses that have no electricity. One of these is the Cyril K. Coldwell laboratory, and it is used exclusively by the banding crew of the Atlantic Bird Observatory. If they are not too busy, and weather permits, tours can be arranged.

The remaining bunkhouse is available for 16 lodgers. Electricity MAY be available at the south tip of the Island, which has a cookhouse (7 beds) with a propane stove and a few places for lodgers, and a laboratory (8 beds). The main buildings have propane stoves, dishes, cutlery, pots, etc


Students are responsible for their own transportation to Shag Harbour; you become University responsibility once you board any of our boats. Because parking is limited and also for ecological reasons, car-pools are your best option, followed by being dropped off. Meet at the Prospect Point Wharf (there's another wharf that ain't the right one) in Shag Harbour at 2:00 or 4:00 on the appointed departure date.

You are responsible for getting lunch the day you head to BP. You'll be boated to the island at 12:30 on Saturday. The 3-km boat ride to BP from Shag Harbour takes about 15 min. Shag Harbour can be approached from either Yarmouth or Barrington. From Wolfville, most believe that it is faster to cross the province on Hwy 12, taking 103 south. The drive takes 3 to 3.5 hours from Wolfville or Halifax, depending on traffic and your road rage. You'll need to arrange boat transportation to the Island (contact the Atlantic Bird Observatory or Dr. Phil Taylor to do so). Sort out with Station Manager the wharf you need to meet at (there's > 1) in Shag Harbour. You should check the weather before making the trip.

The Island has a fully equipped kitchen and dining area. Meals are prepared by a cook (they can handle food sensitivities), and you need only bring the snacks & beverages to which you are addicted. You will share after-meal cleanup responsibilities.

If someone needs to contact you, they should call the Biology Department to obtain the Station Manager's phone number, which also will be provided to all students in advance of the course.

Medical and Psychological Preparation

The Field Station has First Aid kits and staff trained in First Aid, good communication links with the mainland & the Coast Guard & fishing vessels, and an arrangement with a medical clinic in nearby Barrington Passage. However, medical attention is not as handy as it is on the mainland, so if possible, have a medical and dental check-up before the course.

Psychologically, be prepared to stay on the Island for an extra day or two if the weather is rough. Be prepared to live in close quarters with your colleagues, and be able to stay cheerful for extended periods when you are outdoors, even when it's 2 degrees, raining, and windy. It would be even better if you could stay cheerful if you haven't eaten for days and the nearest washroom is a grove of trees. The former hasn't happened, but the latter is a frequent occurrence. Finally, fresh water is not in tremendous supply on BP; be psyched for pit toilets and infrequent showers. Regardless, be prepared to have some working fun.