First Thoughts on Freiburg

Since I will be spending the next four months in land-locked Germany, my posts will be a bit more focused towards sustainability, rather than just water.

I have now been in Freiburg im Breisgau for over a week, and so far, I love my new city! It is the most outdoorsy city I have ever visited; the streets are designed for walkers and cyclists, with electric trams running frequently. Surrounded by mountains, not only is Freiburg beautiful, it is designed to respect nature, and all who live in the city.

  • In many places, bathrooms and hallways especially, the lights are off when nobody is there, and can be turned on for a certain amount of time before automatically switching off in order to conserve energy.
  • Solar panels are everywhere, on individual housing units, on the roofs of student housing, and placed on hills, just soaking up the sun.
  • Although water fountains are rare, plastic and glass bottles can be turned in for refunds (great incentive not to throw them out), and trash is sorted into papers, plastics, and organics.
  • There is a market in the city center every day (except Sunday), selling local fruits and vegetables, thereby reducing all pollution associated with importing produce

I am here to study the sustainability of this city, looking at how cities can be environmentally friendly as well as livable. Throughout my courses this semester, we will be looking at the aspects of the city that make it so sustainable, as well as spending time in nature exploring the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps. Even in my short time here, it is apparent that the people watch out for the environment, and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Summer Highlights

A picture is worth a thousand words, and since I’ve been a bit short with my words lately (traveling is not friendly towards consistent blogging!), here is a visual representation of some of my favorite memories from the summer! From Virginia, to the north shore of Chicago, all the way to Greece, summer is coming to an end as I start classes on Monday…


Experiencing Greece

I will be spending this next semester in Freiburg, Germany, studying the sustainability of the city, as well as spending some time in the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps. I started my semester abroad with a slight detour with a quick trip to Greece. With two of my close friends, we started in Athens, spent some time on the island of Santorini, and then hopped over to Mykonos. I have never seen water so blue or so clear! I also hadn’t realized that Greece is very mountainous, and also fairly dry. It was not quite as I had pictured, or expected. The white houses with blue shutters were pristine and picturesque, but they do not cover all of the islands. We got lost so many times, and I have found that the Maps app on my iPhone is not always correct, and does not understand the twisting and turning cobblestone streets of Greece. 

One thing that surprised me was the cheap price of bottled water (we didn’t drink the tap water). However, it made sense that water costs next to nothing, because I only saw one single water fountain throughout all of our travels. None existed in the airports, or along the street, just one at the top of the Acropolis (thank goodness)! There were also very few trash cans around the street, making it hard to dispose of garbage, and many empty water bottles, and there were very few, if any, recycling receptacles. In addition, the gorgeous water was dotted with plastic drifting through the rocks, side by side with the little fish that nibbled my feet.  I am not complaining about my visit to Greece, just expressing some surprise! One might think that those living on islands, surrounded by water, would be a bit more cautious of polluted waters and sustainability, but that did not seem to be the case. Overall, though, Greece is gorgeous, and an amazing spot to visit! 

Pristine waters at one of the beaches. Not pictured: plastic floating around, getting stuck on the rocks.

Coral Quiz

I received an email today with a quiz asking me “what kind of coral” I am…. I had not ever considered comparing myself to any species of coral, let alone considered one with which I might share commonalities.

Take the quiz if you are curious about your coral connection, or you’re looking for some fun facts about coral (sponsored by the Nature Conservancy). Corals are a great “indicator species”, showing signs of changes in the ocean and helping to predict the health of the oceans and the life within. Although they do not have much mobility, corals are living animals, and are very affected by increasing water temperatures and changes in their local environment.

PS- According to the quiz, I am similar to Bubble Coral!

Swimming in the Rain

We heard the rain before we saw it. We saw it before we felt it. The droplets flew across the trees as they made their way toward us, like a rogue wave crashing up onto a beach. The raindrops jumped across the water of Lake Megunticook, pouring into its surface until all of a sudden, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. We had been swimming just 5 minutes before, hoping that the weather would hold off. When it became clear that the rainstorm was approaching, very quickly, all the cousins and I scurried out of the water and ran up (taking with us anything that does best when dry) to the cottage. We were watching from the porch, when one cousin after another made their way back down to the dock and jumped into the water. We were already wet, why not continue swimming, despite the rain?! There wasn’t any lightning, and rumor has it that water feels warmer when it’s raining. We swam around for a while, then made our way across the lake to the beloved “jumping rock”. Due to the rain, the lake had completely emptied of water-goers, leaving the rock waiting for those brave enough to jump off. 

As we swam across, the water was like nothing I had ever experienced. The sky and the water were joined by the raindrops that bounced off the surface before joining into the vastness of the lake. When I ducked my head underwater, I could hear the rain falling into the lake. It was amazing and spectacular. Who says rainy days can’t be fun?! 

Of course, the lake is just one part of my love for Maine. Many people don’t even realize that Maine even has lakes. The main attraction is the ocean- quintessential Maine on the coast. The water is crisp and clear, and mid-Coastal Maine is beautifully rocky. While I love the lake, the Atlantic Ocean is one of the coasts that connects my life, and I could spend hours gazing out at the sea. The hikes are amazing, as are the views of both lake and sea from the tops of the cliffs. I love everything about Maine, and it is ultimately the water that keeps me coming back. 

Happy Thoughtful Thursday!

Think about the “Three Rs”: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Simple as 1, 2, 3; there is a reason this familiar phrase starts with reduce. Ideally, one would reduce the amount of products they consume. If you can’t reduce, reuse what you have. If you can’t reuse, then recycle!

Reducing your intake of disposable materials, and reducing consumption of stuff in general, decreases the potential of trash ending up in places it shouldn’t and leads to less overall pollution.

If you must buy something, such as a plastic bag, then the second step after reduce is reuse. Take a single-use plastic bag and put it to another use. Use it to pick up after a pet, or use it instead of bubblewrap when shipping items. Or reuse the containers you had from take-out the other night for food storage some time, or use them when taking dinner to a friend. Reusing is better than recycling, because it gives the item a longer useful life, prolonging the time until it ends up in a landfill, or wherever else it might end up.

Recycling should be a “last resort”. If reducing and reusing products doesn’t work out, please recycle. Some grocery stores have plastic bag recycling receptacles where you can deposit plastic bags. Glass is very recyclable (and can be turned in for a cash refund in some states), and many plastics used in packaging can be recycled. Even some food packaging, such as bags of lettuce, can be recycled. Recycling could be the difference between a lively and lifeless ocean. In addition, recycling can reduce the amount of natural resources needed to produce new products.

As simple as this phrase is, it can be hard to be conscious of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Just give it a little more thought, every now and then!

Straws- are they really so bad?

Big news: tons of restaurants, including Starbucks, as well as some cities, are banning straws! This is a great reason to be excited, fewer straws will be entering our waterways! Many of you, I’m sure, have seen the devastating videos of sea animals with stomachs full of plastic and straws up noses. Although terrible, it turns out that straws only make up 6% of plastic pollution. Much of the plastic pollution found in the stomachs of sea animals is comprised of bottle caps and other small bits of broken down plastic. Although straws are a problem, the alternative to straws may be worse.

Starbucks is getting tons of publicity because they are ditching straws and “helping the environment”, increasing their business because consumers are elated that their daily coffee fix will soon be more environmentally friendly. However, consider the process of producing a plastic straw versus the production of the new plastic lid that Starbucks will implement. Although the new plastic will be recyclable, it uses more crude oil to produce than the smaller straws, increasing the extraction and use of fossil fuels. This creates more pollution, and has a potentially negative effect towards climate change. Many people might not recycle the lid as they should, and more plastic could end up in the oceans.

The shift from non-recyclable straws to reusable plastic is important, as it raises awareness of the issue of single-use plastic. The switch does also decrease the amount of non-reusable plastic being discarded. However, it is vital to think about the alternatives, and the possible impact on the environment.

For more information on the use of fossil fuels in the production of plastic, take a look at Surfrider Foundation’s article!

Book Review: Blue Mind

I love water. It turns out, that tons of other people love water, too! In fact, the calming effects of water are so prevalent that someone decided to write a book about the psychology of humans’ love of water. Blue Mind, characterized as “the surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do”. Written by Wallace J. Nichols, the book delves deep into the human brain and looks at the pathways that enforce our attraction to the water.

The book compares tons of studies, all of which are incredibly interesting and informational. However, all 278 pages prove the same point: humans love water, there’s tons of science to back it up, and water seems to have a positive effect on the brain. Although this is part of why the book was written, to compile all of the research done on the human brain and water, it is a bit repetitive. It is not easy to simply recall one of the many studies done, especially when explaining to friends what you are reading, and the general gist of the book.

The book is fascinating. The science is fascinating. But it is a very long read. As a science major, I knew some of the basis for the studies, and techniques used, and it definitely helped me understand and interpret some of the information.  If you are looking for a highly scientific review on the brain and water, this is the book for you! Otherwise, just know that your love for water is  biological!

Fish Hotels

In efforts to revitalize the Chicago River and attract fish that were once abundant in the area, “Fish Hotels” have been installed along the River Walk . An organization called Friends of the Chicago River came up with the idea as an aquatic life restoration project. The first fish hotel was installed in 2005, with additional locations installed in 2012. Appearing as floating gardens in the river, the islands add greenery to the concrete jungle of the city. In addition to increasing the fish population of the river, which in turn can be an indicator of the health of the waterway, the fish hotels are meant to pique interest of others and raise awareness for river conservation.

Over a century ago, during the reversal of the river in efforts to reduce pollution of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River was dug deeper to better accommodate shipping and transportation. This cleared out many of the preexisting fish habitats, which in turn diminished the amount of fish in the river. The goal of these “hotels” is to attract and sustain fish to increase aquatic diversity in the river. Next time you’re along the river (which by the way, the river walk is beautiful and has awesome restaurants!), look out for these fish hotels!

PS – Follow me on Instagram! @connectingcoasts