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>  News Releases >   2001 >   March

Spring break arctic getaway: an undergraduate attends environmental conference

Posted 03/08/01

Alexios Monopolis, Dartmouth class of '03 from Towson, Md., is heading north for spring break. Way north. No warm beaches or tropical destinations for him. With support from Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Department of Geography, Monopolis is about to embark on a journey to learn about wilderness management from the experts in the Arctic Circle.

On March 12-13, Monopolis will attend a conference coordinated by the World Wild Fund for Nature and the WWF's Arctic Programme. This conference brings together multinational environmental and commercial stakeholders to discuss management strategies for Svalbard, a remote territory north of Scandinavia.

"I want to get a feel for the international political science involved in wilderness protection," he said. Monopolis is pursuing a major in geography modified with environmental studies. With this project, he combines his interests in global environmental issues, political science and wilderness ethics.

"The Geography Department strongly encourages its undergraduate majors to participate in professional meetings," said Richard Wright, Professor of Geography. Although Monopolis will not receive course credit for his Arctic journey, he will gain valuable experience and make important contacts. His responsibility to his funders includes reports and presentations upon his return.

Svalbard is virtually a pristine arctic environment. With a population of less than 3,000, human environmental impact is limited. According to The World Factbook 2000, published by the CIA, ice and snow cover the land most of the year, and the terrain is mainly wild and rugged. To get there, Monopolis will catch one of the seven or so weekly flights from Tromso, Norway, to the government seat of Longyearbyen, where the conference will be held. He has to plan ahead to explore further afield. No roads connect the settlements; people navigate via boat or small airplane. Wildlife thrives in this place though. The Web site <www.svalbard.net> reports hundreds of thousands of coastal birds stopping over on their travels around the North Atlantic. Walrus, seals and beluga whales all make their home there. Reindeer, polar bears and fox are common sights.

Svalbard covers an area slightly smaller than West Virginia, and officials there oversee numerous national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. The major economic interest in Svalbard is coal mining, as reported by The World Factbook 2000. Fishing and trapping provides income for some. The tourism industry, especially cruise ships and snowmobiling, attracts people and their accompanying garbage, noise pollution, diesel and gas engine remnants, disturbed wildlife, and their general increased burden on the land. Potential exploitation of oil, gas and gold mines also pose a future environmental concern, according to the WWF.

"Many environmental and economic interests compete for land use rights in Svalbard and, being an ardent environmentalist myself, I want to analyze the situation critically and hopefully find that the economics aren't overriding the need to permanently protect this amazing wilderness area," Monopolis said. He will only be an observer at the March conference, but he hopes to learn how competing parties work together. A 1920 treaty allowed Norway to govern Svalbard, but the more than 40 treaty signers have a say in how natural resources are used or protected. The WWF is hosting this conference, asking for input from a variety of interests, to be able to recommend a comprehensive management plan to the Norwegian government.

After his appearance at the conference and with funding from the Ledyard Canoe Club, Monopolis will spend a few days on a scientific sea kayaking expedition with Svalbard natives conducting a research project. He'll record the wildlife sighted through photography, take notes about the arctic ecosystem and gather data on the geography of human-environmental relations. Then it's on to Prague next term as part of the Department of Geography's Foreign Study Program to learn how the Czech Republic and Poland manage a bilateral biosphere reserve that straddles the countries' common border. Monopolis will return to Dartmouth for the summer term armed with first-hand experience in global environmental political science.

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