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Feature Spotlight: Students’ Baltic Study Abroad Offers Lessons for the Chesapeake

Posted: June 6, 2016

College of Agricultural Sciences students and faculty, fresh off an amazing educational and cultural exchange in Sweden, returned to the United States with a deeper appreciation of the challenges faced in restoring the Baltic Sea, and lessons learned for Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Penn State students and faculty in Öregrund, Sweden, standing at the edge of the Baltic Sea during their two week excursion.

Penn State students and faculty in Öregrund, Sweden, standing at the edge of the Baltic Sea during their two week excursion.

AEC Director and ERM faculty Matt Royer led an inaugural two-week Maymester course entitled The Baltic Sea and the Chesapeake Bay: Lessons Learned for Water Quality Restoration. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala, Sweden hosted 15 Penn State students and faculty who participated in the course.

Like the Chesapeake Bay, the Baltic Sea suffers from eutrophication. Excess nutrients stimulate algae growth which, when they decay, causes hypoxia (low oxygen conditions), impacting aquatic life.

Lecturers from SLU and Stockholm University introduced students to the Baltic Sea ecosystem, existing pollution threats, and institutional, policy and scientific regimes to achieve restoration in a watershed which spans 14 European countries.

Students also participated in excursions to the seaside village of Öregrund, to learn about fisheries management issues at SLU’s coastal institute campus, and experimental farms surrounding a freshwater lake providing the City of Stockholm’s water supply.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the farm of Hakan Erickson, the 2010 Baltic Sea farmer of the year.

“I learned more than I ever thought I could learn in two weeks,” said Madison Miller, a rising senior majoring in Community, Environment and Development . “It was an amazing experience to hear presentations from a variety of distinguished professionals. Listening to the lectures, we were treated like advisors on eutrophication, and were privileged to have in-depth conversations about difficult issues. It was exciting to see the bridge of different disciplines, such as law, economics, sociology, and science.”

During the second week, Penn State and SLU faculty and Ph.D. candidates presented current research projects aimed at solving nutrient issues in their respective watersheds.

The undergraduates ended the course by developing and jointly presenting comparisons and contrasts between the Baltic and Chesapeake, lessons learned from each, and recommendations for action and future collaboration between the regions.

 “There are differences, but there are similarities too,” noted Jenna Mackley, who enters her senior year as an Environmental Resources Management major this fall. “Efforts to help restore the Baltic Sea have shown us that cooperation between stakeholders is most feasibly done through outreach, communication, and regulation."

"In both the Chesapeake and the Baltic, it is challenging to convince farmers, homeowners, politicians, and stakeholders that small efforts over large areas add up and do have an impact to restoring water quality, even though it may take a long time to see improvements,” noted Mackley. “But listening to scientists, professors, and various professionals all dedicated to helping restore the Baltic Sea enlightened me to the idea that the Chesapeake Bay can be saved through cooperative efforts--it will just take time to reap the benefits.”

Perhaps some of these bright young students will play a role in implementing some of those efforts, and will get to witness the benefits of an improved Chesapeake Bay and Baltic Sea.