Winter: Rutgers- An Exploration of Biodiversity, Natural History, and Conservation of Patagonia

Patagonia, Argentina

Program Overview

Term Start Date End Date Application Deadline
Winter 2025
Jan 06, 2025
Jan 18, 2025
Oct 01, 2024
Language(s) of Instruction
Class Standing
Good Academic Standing


Program Advisor

The Program

Join this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience within the extraordinary setting of Coastal Patagonia. Conduct censuses of sea lions and penguins, excavate fossils, track a puma family, snorkel in tidepools, and observe elephant seals and orcas!

This course will help students develop scientific skills by combining theoretical concepts with experiential field learning. Students will learn the geological, biological, and ecological characteristics of coastal Patagonia and the adjacent steppe biome, as well as the current conservation challenges and programs being implemented. It is hoped it will inspire admiration for the natural world and strengthen the importance of conservation of biological diversity and natural habitats.

At the core of this course is the fieldwork, where students will engage in full-day field activities in a variety of habitats and ecosystems. Activities will include surveying intertidal communities and learning the oceanographic and ecological processes behind their formation; learning wildlife management and monitoring techniques, such as the use of camera traps and analysis of tracks to study pumas and other wildlife; conducting paleontological surveys of Miocene marine deposits, learning fossil identification and interpretation of paleo ecosystems; closely observing the endemic steppe’s fauna, including guanacos, rheas, reptiles and a variety of aves, and learning about their behavior, ecology, and conservation.


Program Locations



Wildlife Refuge "La Esperanza"

Located about 75 km north of Puerto Madryn, "La Esperanza" encompasses an area of 6,700 ha, including 12 km of San Matías Gulf coast, and is strategically located in the buffer zone of Península Valdés. The refuge, managed by Fundación Patagonia Natural (, conserves the biodiversity and habitats that represent the coastal Patagonian steppe, conducting scientific research and educational activities. Over 80 species of vertebrates have been surveyed, including rheas, guanacos, and a sea lion colony.  Near the coastal zone, archaeological sites of the Tehueches culture can be found, and further inland, the Miocene-age paleocliffs and canyons containing rich fossil assemblages of marine invertebrates.

peninsula valdes


Península Valdés

Peninsula Valdez, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, is situated in the Chubut Province. It is separated from the continent by a narrow isthmus, which gives its characteristics of a continental island. Its coastal zone possesses extensive rocky cliffs of up to 100 m in height, deeply carved canyons containing fossil-rich Tertiary marine deposits, shallow bays, and extensive mudflats. This is an area of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals, for the unique biodiversity that inhabits its desert plains, and for the diverse marine fauna along its coastline, including important breeding populations of southern right whale, southern elephant seals, penguins, and variety of bird species. The wetlands provide significant nesting and resting sites for numerous migratory shorebirds.


Islote lobos


Islotes Lobos National Park

This newly created National Park is located about 90 km North of “La Esperanza” wildlife refuge. The park’s nutrient-rich ocean waters sustain a highly diverse ecosystem. It is home to the northernmost Magellanic penguin breeding colony, a reproductive colony of sea lions, and several species of coastal birds. The terrestrial fauna includes guanacos, foxes, and reptiles. This area is an important resting place for migratory birds (e.g., red knots) during their long migration between the northern and southern hemispheres. Over 60 species (20 families) of birds have been recorded, including gulls, knots, plovers, oystercatchers, herons, as well as falcons, rheas, and flamingos. 


The program An Exploration of Biodiversity, Natural History, and Conservation of Patagonia covers fundamental concepts and processes that explain the origin, patterns, and evolution of biological diversity in Patagonia and describe the current threats to biodiversity by anthropocentric activities. The core of this course is a 10-day field trip to Patagonia (Southern Argentina).

This 3-credit course is open to all students, undergraduate and graduate, with a general interest in biodiversity and nature exploration; students with a strong interest in fields such as ecology, animal behavior, marine biology, paleontology, zoology, and wildlife conservation, will particularly benefit of this field experience.      

This course involves four pre-travel meetings and two post-travel meetings. In addition to the activities listed in the planned activities section, students will keep a daily log and will take field notes and photographic documentation during each field activity.  Upon return from the trip, students will write a summary of their activities, and describe their experiences from both an academic and personal point of view.

The fieldwork portion of this program includes six days at the wildlife refuge "La Esperanza" (, located in the Province of Chubut, about 75 km north of the city of Puerto Madryn. During our stay at the wildlife refuge, we will travel to the newly created Islotes Lobos National Park. Then, we will travel to Puerto Pirámides (Península Valdés) for three days of field activities. For more details, see course description and syllabus.

Take a look at more pictures from past programs!


Feel free to email the professor, Dr. Vagelli, if you have questions about the course academics, out-of-pocket costs, travel itinerary, etc... You can email him at

Winter 2023 highlights

Check out the photos from winter 2023.

Housing and Meals

Housing and meals: Housing and meals are included in the program fee. At the wildlife refuge housing is shared in triple/quad rooms by gender, with each student having their own twin/ bunk bed. Students will share doble/triple rooms in the hotel/ lodge in Buenos Aires and Puerto Pirámides. Meals include breakfast and dinner. Packed lunches and water will be provided for the fieldwork. Vegetarian options can be arranged.

Financial Information

Program Costs

This is the billed amount that will appear on your Rutgers term bill during the term you study abroad.
NJ Resident non-NJ Resident
Undergraduate $3,230 $3,650
Program Cost includes:
  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Most meals
  • Excursions
  • Administrative Fees
  • Emergency Medical Access Abroad

Out-of-Pocket Costs

These are estimated expenses that are not part of your term bill. Students will need to pay for these expenses out-of-pocket.
Airfare $1,600
Meals $40
Personal Expenses $100
Total $1,740.00
Out-of-Pocket Cost includes:

The above costs are estimations and represent the known out-of-pocket costs students encounter during their time abroad.

Some of these expenses will be paid for prior to going abroad, such as an airline ticket, while some of these expenses, such as meals and personal expenses, will be paid in-country as part of your daily expenses. As you plan, you will need to budget these costs and spend wisely throughout your time abroad.


Available to all Rutgers students participating in a Rutgers Global–Study Abroad program. Applications can be found inside of your study abroad program application. For more information, please visit the Scholarship section of our website.

Faculty Leaders

Dr. Alejandro Vagelli

Since 2005, Dr. Alejandro Vagelli has been an associated researcher in the Biology Department at Rutgers (Camden), where he teaches several courses, including marine biology, marine field ecology, and introduction to biodiversity & conservation. He was born in Argentina where he obtained his MS (Zoology) and Ph.D. (Biology). He has completed extensive studies on the reproductive biology and ecology of diverse marine organisms including fishes and invertebrates.  Dr. Vagelli has conducted fieldwork in Patagonia, the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Florida Keys, Indonesia, and Australia. He is the foremost expert in the remarkable Banggai cardinalfish, and his fieldwork in Indonesia led to its IUCN “Endangered” designation and inclusion in the American Endangered Species Act. Dr. Vagelli is very familiar with Patagonia, he has participated in fieldwork conducted in the program’s location, including surveys of endemic terrestrial fauna, and paleontological deposits of the Puerto Madryn Formation. Moreover, in Spring 2022, he led a similar program through Camden’s Learning Abroad program.