Bringing the CMM program into the Courthouse: A Coastal and Marine Management Alumni Journey

Monday 3. January 2022 | By: Daniel Metzger

I was a student in the Coastal and Marine Management programme in 2011–2013. Not only did I have a great time, but the programme also helped launch my career in environmental law and provided lasting inspiration for the work I do today. I would not be where I am without the CMM program.

After the end of undergrad I found myself not sure what I wanted to do next. I knew that I wanted a career that would be interesting, challenging, and would make a positive difference somehow, but the details were in flux. I settled, after a while, on trying to build a career in environmental law. But as I started to explore what that would take it became apparent that a lot more students are interested in environmental law than there are jobs in the field. And then, in the midst of struggling with how to distinguish myself and actually make this career happen, a simple Facebook ad popped up: “Study in Iceland,” with a gorgeous picture of a town suspended in a fjord. Intrigued, I clicked. 

Ísafjörður felt like home quickly. The spectacular setting added depth and context to the coursework, which was interesting and challenging. It was particularly so for a student like me who had never taken any university-level science, but the instructors were patient. Making deep friendships with the cohort was as natural as could be—almost everyone was a transplant from far away, we saw each other every day, and we nearly all had similar interests. I still cherish my friendships with colleagues similarly committed to studying the natural world, better understanding climate change, and pursuing meaningful careers a little outside the mainstream.

"Ísafjörður felt like home quickly. The spectacular setting added depth and context to the coursework, which was interesting and challenging."

The coursework on the law of the sea naturally leapt out at me and, as expected, helped confirm my interest in a career in the law. More surprising was how much I enjoyed other courses—studying coastal management, fisheries, oceanography, and related subjects highlighted how laws and regulations shaped the environmental outcomes we were learning. We explored, for example, how fisheries rules are designed, applied, and often evaded, and how those rules can have a cascading effect on the whole ecosystem. And we learned about how legal tools like environmental impact assessments can be used to generate a wealth of knowledge about the interaction between a coastal community and the natural resources on which it relies.

"Making deep friendships with the cohort was as natural as could be%u2014almost everyone was a transplant from far away, we saw each other every day, and we nearly all had similar interests."

Perhaps most importantly though, the time I spent in Ísafjörður burned into my mind vivid images of the stark, beautiful Icelandic landscape. The relentlessness of the summer sun was disorienting in a wonderful way, but I also picked up a host of other memories that I cherish: the fresh sting of cold fall rain jogging around the fjord, the smell of lupines, and the cozy embrace of night that settled over town for the whole winter.

The 2011 cohort along with UW director Dr. Peter Weiss, holding the photo, and instructor Dr. Larry Hildebrand from Canada.
The 2011 cohort along with UW director Dr. Peter Weiss, holding the photo, and instructor Dr. Larry Hildebrand from Canada.
   

I left Ísafjörður after coursework ended to finish my thesis remotely from back home in New York. A few years after that, I enrolled in law school and devoured every environmental, energy, and land use class I could. In these first few years of my legal career I have had the opportunity to work in a law firm doing commercial litigation of several kinds (including challenging environmental cases) and to complete a fellowship at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

I am still in the early part of my career, but it is already clear that the CMM program has been a vast help and has opened doors that would otherwise have been closed to me. In the private practice of law the tools for understanding and appreciating science, ecosystems, and the role of local communities in environmental management helped me navigate tricky legal questions relating to siting renewable power facilities and appropriately compensating their owners. After transitioning to a non-profit setting, the academic skills I learned at the University Centre came into play, helping me to marshal state-of-the-art science and apply it to legal questions. That background helped me better understand how climate change demands changes to the way natural resources are managed at every level.

Once in a while I get a chance to speak with someone who is interested in applying to the program, or who has applied and is considering whether to attend. I always vigorously recommend that they go for it. The pitch is straightforward: Ísafjörður is beautiful. You will make lifelong friends. The cost is reasonable. The degree will open up doors in many different fields, and it will likely create (as it has done for me) many, many interesting opportunities down the road. Do not miss out.

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