[In Part I of this two-part series, Master of Natural Resources (MNR) alumnus Lindsay Key chronicled her arrival in Zagreb, Croatia, to meet with Dr. Anamaria Bukvic and students enrolled in the MNR program’s course on Global Issues in Natural Resources, which includes a 10-day International Field Experience (IFE).  In this installment, Lindsay offers an insider’s view to the IFE students’ trip to Rovinj, Pula, and Karlovac, where they met local leaders to discuss the challenges facing communities along the Adriatic Sea.]

Rovinj, Croatia, is a haven for artists, musicians, and foodies perched on the Adriatic Sea. The city has approximately 15,000 inhabitants, and its major industries are tourism, fishing, and tobacco.   About 5,733 of people in the city are employed, and tourism brings in another 2,500 workers, mostly from other parts of Croatia, to work during peak season.

The biggest challenge the city faces now, according to the mayor, is its outdated sewage infrastructure. In the early 1990s, only 30 percent of the population was on a connected sewer system, and many relied on septic tanks. However, since then, the city has been working to connect and expand its sewage system. Between September 2017 and June 2018, a total of 9,870 meters of the network was connected. The city is also constructing a new wastewater treatment plant.

IFE students

Dr. Bukvic, the IFE students, and I met with Rovinj Mayor Marko Paliaga, as well as Paolo Paliaga, a scientist with the Center for Marine Research at Ruder Boskovic Institute, to talk about the history of Rovinj and some of the challenges it faces. Following a roundtable discussion, we learned that the Adriatic Sea, in the northern part of the Mediterranean Sea, is approximately 870 kilometers and is governed by two winds—a cold northern wind and a warm southern wind. Our hosts described several unique environmental disturbances, including the arrival of two invasive species—the jelly comb and the bluefish—as well as strange mucilage events that occur during summers when the water is stable. During these events, a sticky algal gel forms on the water, creating an ecological system where pathogenic bacteria can live. Researchers are still trying to determine how to prevent these events.

After spending several days in Rovinj and neighboring beach town Pula, students headed mainland and learned about water and fire issues faced there in the city of Karlovac. Miroslav Rade, the Karlovac Fire Department Chief said that wildfires are a regular occurrence along the Adriatic Coast, and that ninety percent of them are caused by people, unintentionally.  But perhaps of more concern is the flooding that occurs when large amounts of rain and snow at higher altitudes in the center of the country melt and trickle down the mountains into Karlovac’s four main rivers.

Karlovac residents have noticed increased flooding in recent years, beginning in 2013, and many suspect that climate change may contribute to this increase. National environmental agency Croatian Waters has mitigated the flooding by building levees to contain the water, but many city officials feel a longer-term strategy is needed to control the flooding. During the most massive flood, in 2015, 500 homes were damaged, and the water took two to three days to recede.

After a discussion with the chief, students were able to watch a live demonstration of how Karlovac firefighters respond to an emergency call and then had dinner with the firefighters to continue discussions.

IFE group photo fire department

On the second to last day, students visited yet another water-rich site—Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is about a two-hour drive south of Zagreb. Considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, more than 1 million people visit the site each year. The park is a natural system of 16 surface level lakes that were formed by several rivers passing through a karst landscape—a term given to topography that is formed from the erosion of rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum, which creates sinkholes and caves. Students learned about this unique topography – and the challenges of preservation amidst tourism—on a guided tour.

MNR students truly learned about a breadth of water-related issues and management strategies in Croatia during their trip that they plan to take back to their own careers. For the course, students will work in groups to develop a WordPress website that will document the experiences and observations they accrued during their visit and meetings with local partners in Croatia. Spending ten days together in a foreign country built strong bonds, and many are already planning ways to stay in touch and visit each other after the trip.

Croatia IFE students


Lindsay Key headshot

Online MNR alumna Lindsay Key is passionate about helping scientists translate their discoveries into news that the general public can understand and use. She’s especially knowledgeable about the life sciences, and has written extensively about the environment, wildlife, and human health. In addition to the MNR, she has degrees in creative writing (focus: poetry), English, and Communication Studies.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks Lindsay Key for granting permission to use her photos.