No Fear in the New Year

On December 31st, 2013 I found myself feeling lucky that I have plenty to celebrate. Near the top of the list: this year, I completed my first semester of graduate school in the Netherlands! I took a leap, dove into my research and classes, explored my Dutch heritage more fully than ever before, and enjoyed having opportunities to travel and learn.

New Year's Day sunset in Laguna Beach, California

This past month, my main focus was on issues of sustainability in the polar regions. In Antarctica, human settlements are new and mainly consist of research bases; however, the Arctic region has long supported human populations, who have survived the harsh conditions in various ways. Today, Arctic communities face many challenges – such as population shifts, urbanization, and climate change – factors that increase competition for resources and change the people’s relationship to the environment.

A topic that especially interests me is the history of overfishing off of Newfoundland’s coast in Canada, and during my last course I had a chance to take a closer look. The rise of the cod fishery helped support the growth of a flourishing industry in the region. However, the centuries of fishing created the industry’s own demise as well. By 1991, the cod stocks had collapsed and, in the biggest mass layoff in the history of Canada, the government was forced to close the fishery. To this day, the stocks have not returned to their previous abundance.

Drying cod to preserve them in Burgeo, Newfoundland in 1908. 
Photo by William McFarlane Notman via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

The Newfoundland cod fishery is now one of the most extreme examples of what can occur when resources aren’t managed carefully: the cost is huge, and it is not just ecological – the cost is human. Coincidentally, it also turned out to be a beautiful chance to bring my work full circle with Melissa’s fisheries research in Canada at McGill. Melissa wants to apply her current research in freshwater recreational fisheries to a career managing commercial marine fishery policy to help avoid such collapses in the future.

Between researching, writing papers, and preparing presentations, I still found a chance to do some exploring this month as well.

Groningen lies next to the German border, and the beautiful little city of Bremen lays just a two-hour drive away. During the holiday season, many German cities light up with winter festivities, and Bremen is home to a well-known Christmas market. At this kerstmarkt, I saw the center of the city filled with stalls selling all kinds of goods: traditional handmade German crafts, baked goods and bratwurst – and especially the local seasonal favorite gluhwein, or mulled wine.

Photo by Kat Stroehm.

Photo by Kat Stroehm.

On a different trip, I made my way southwards to the Hague, on the coast of the North Sea, where I strolled through the city, visited the beach boardwalk, and admired the Peace Palace (near where the orca Morgan’s hearings took place). The city is also home to Omniversum, a dome IMAX theater where a number of MacGillivray Freeman documentaries have played, and still play including Dolphins, The Living Sea and To The Arctic.  

The highlight of our visit, though, was visiting a small theme park called Madurodam, where you can explore all of the Netherlands – in miniature! From the famous cheese market of Alkmaar, to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to a miniature Schiphol airport with moving KLM planes, you can see virtually all of the famous sights and structures of this country in one place, meticulously recreated. Somehow, it perfectly captures Holland’s mix of quaintness and modernity.

Just three days before Christmas, I was ready to catch my flight back home for a whirlwind visit full of holiday festivities and amazing winter beach weather. Certainly, leaving beautiful, sunny California has only increased my appreciation for its beauty and warmth, but I’m also looking forward to spending 2014 continuing my studies in Groningen and further exploring the wonderful sights of Europe!

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