Peaches, Puffins, and The Pips: Georgia’s Unexpected Arctic Connections

US Arctic
Our Arctic Nation
Published in
8 min readDec 21, 2016


By Keira Waites, a sophomore at American University and native of Atlanta, Georgia, and Madeleine (Maddie) Dargis, an American University sophomore from Virginia.

According to the Georgia Aquarium, belugas whales are “listed by the IUCN as “Near Threatened,” and in some cases even “Critically Endangered,” in the wild” The aquarium’s Beluga Import Project hopes to ensure a “sustainable population of beluga whales in accredited North American facilities.” (Photo credit: Georgia Aquarium)

In Georgia, the weather is overwhelmingly hot — it’s just about as opposite from the Arctic as you could get, or so it might seem. Once you dive below the surface of the Peach State, however, you find some unexpected aquatic, consular, and cultural connections.

Keira: I grew up in Atlanta and while I didn’t think much about the Arctic, I did get a glimpse of it when we took school trips to the Georgia Aquarium, which is actually the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Arctic Room is one of the most popular rooms at the aquarium because it features beluga whales, which are only found in the Arctic. The aquarium actually does a lot of conservation and research work with belugas. They are facing new threats because the Arctic Ocean is warming, and the more we understand, the better chances we have at helping these cool white sea creatures — which are currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened — survive.

For those who won’t be in Georgia or the Arctic anytime soon, the Aquarium offers a live cam where you can watch the beautiful belugas:

Maddie: Keira and I are both undergraduate students at American University (AU) in Washington, DC. We’ve had a lot of classes together so I’ve been learning a lot about the Arctic and Georgia. We met last year when we were freshmen and were both offered spots in AU’s Visual Literacy Seminar, a class that introduces students to how aesthetics and visual images are used in art, photography, film, and digital media to communicate different messages. The course has a practical component where we get to put what we’ve learned to work in the real world. For our final class project, we were responsible for designing a social media campaign for a real-life client, which for our class turned out to be the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Atlantic puffins are found around the Arctic and were the mascot for the Norwegian Embassy’s Arctic film contest. (Photo credit: (L) Wikimedia Commons; (R) Royal Norwegian Embassy, Washington)

Norway is an Arctic country and also on the Arctic Council like the United States. They wanted to do something to interest Americans in the Arctic, so they decided to hold a short film contest called Meet the Arctic. It was our job to help them help get the word out. I’m from the East Coast and have to admit that before this project, I really didn’t know much about the Arctic. Together with my classmates, we researched everything we could about the region, and it opened up an entirely new world for us. The Arctic has so much more going on than we realized — environmental challenges, social issues, music, art, business, etc. — we had so much material to work with!

Screenshot from the Meet the Arctic Instragram page the authors created for the Norwegian Embassy. (Image credit: Instagram)

We decided the best way to raise awareness was, of course, through social media. So we worked together to create hashtags, social media challenges, and Buzzfeed quizzes and articles that would help the Embassy of Norway gain attention for their contest. The goal of our campaign was to bring awareness to as many American youth we could reach. We made short films using our AU friends as actor, and created an Instagram feed and hashtag (#MeettheArcic) as a platform for spreading information.

Our work in this class led us down an interesting path towards a newfound passion for Arctic awareness and corresponding issues, like environmental issues. Along the way, we discovered that we were unknowingly doing our part in Arctic work by raising awareness of the Arctic, its ecosystem, and its peoples, which was great.

One of the entries from the Norwegian Embassy’s short film contest. (Video from YouTube)

The Arctic is a really cool place (no pun intended!) and luckily Keira and I have been able to continue working on the Arctic through the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service, which is like a “virtual intern” program. The State Department is working to raise awareness of the Arctic during its two year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and our previous Arctic work was a good fit for what they were doing, too.

Keira: One thing I enjoyed about the Norwegian Embassy project is that I learned how other Arctic nations see themselves. In America, we don’t really think of ourselves as an Arctic nation, but we are. In Norway, people seem to know a lot about the Arctic — and lots of Norwegians live there. One of the biggest cities in the Arctic is Tromsø and has 71,000 people. In our Arctic, the biggest city is Barrow, Alaska with about 5,000 people. It’s much harder for Americans to visit our Arctic.

Maddie: Coincidentally, I had my first introduction to the culture of one of our fellow Arctic countries, Russia, in Georgia. In high school, I traveled to the University of Northern Georgia (UNG) in the town of Dahlonega (pop 5,250) to study Russian for three weeks as part of an intensive language immersion program called the Federal Service Language Academy.

In addition to a new alphabet, grammar, and vocabulary, I was also introduced to a completely new culture through trips to a Russian-speaking nursing home, a Russian supermarket, and an Orthodox church. While the United States and Russia may not appear to have much in common at first glance, we are united by the fact we are both Arctic nations — it’s also one of the areas where we cooperate closely with Russian, including on science.

I continued my study of Russian language when I arrived at American University, and am considering studying abroad in Russia, which would be my first chance to step foot in an Arctic nation myself. If I do, I’ll have UNG to thank!

The flag of Georgia (top) together with the flags of (L to R) Canada, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. All four countries are Arctic nations that have a diplomatic presence in Georgia.

Keira: In terms of other connections, it turns out that back home in Georgia we have diplomatic representatives from four of the seven other Arctic nations. Canada has a consulate-general, and Finland, Iceland, and Sweden all have an honorary consul. These diplomatic presences help keep the cultural, economic, and political ties strong between their nations and our southeast corner of the United States. They also provide services (like visa and passport assistance) for citizens of their own countries who live in Georgia.

Swedish Honorary Consul Mikael Norin (left) at a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce event in Atlanta (Photo credit: SACC)

Mr. Mikael Nortin, who serves as the Honorary Consul of Sweden, was appointed in 2014 by Swedish Ambassador Björn Lyrvall. He is Swedish and a U.S. permanent resident who’s had an exciting global career as a corporate advisor. He told Global Atlanta that being selected to be the official link between Sweden and Georgia was, “an honor, definitely…I saw it as a way of giving back a little bit and supporting the Swedish community here in Atlanta and Georgia.”

Maddie: In addition to learning about the Arctic nations that have consulates in Georgia, when we were researching Georgia/Arctic connections we also came across Charles Orgbon III, a University of Georgia (UGA) senior and passionate advocate for the environment and youth. After I read that Charles had visited the Arctic himself, I got in touch with him and had the pleasure of interviewing him about his work.

Charles is the founder and CEO of Greening Forward, a non-profit organization that helps young people build the partnerships and skills the need to create community-based approaches to solving environmental issues. Sponsored by big names like Levi’s and Lush Cosmetics, Charles is bringing Arctic environmental issues home to Georgia and spreading the word about how people can help.

(L) Charles Orgbon III is an environmental and youth advocate in Georgia with an interest in the Arctic; (R) An image showing how Charles’ organization, Greening Forward, helps empower youth. (Image credits: (R) Twitter; (L) Greening Forward.)

“I’ve always been an informal environmental educator,” he told us. “At UGA, climate science is required for graduation. I’ve been on the boards of organizations that have developed the curriculum for Georgia educators, and I’ve been in the role of a student telling teachers how students should be taught about climate change and the Arctic in an exciting and engaging way and not to leave us hopeless about these issues.” He said that researchers in Georgia are definitely contributing to having a better understanding of the northern Polar Region and how to conserve the ecosystem, not only scientifically, but through policy as well.”

Charles Orgbon III in the Canadian Arctic in 2015. (Photo credit: Charles Orgbon III)

In September 2015, Charles visited the Canadian Arctic to study tree lines. When I asked him if he felt that visiting the actual Arctic was the best way for people to get involved with Arctic issues, he responded, “I think that the best way to start saving the Arctic is to start by saving our own communities, driving less, consuming less, conserving what we can. That’s what’s going to save the polar bear from extinction, and the ice sheets from melting more. The answer isn’t in the Arctic, it’s everywhere. People who are doing these things — conservation, sustainability — are inherently doing Arctic work.”

Both: There are also a lot of other Georgia-Arctic connections that we don’t really have time to go into — but feel free to explore on your own! We’ll leave with you with a final connection related to the ever-topical issue of Arctic energy, a song called “Alaska Pipeline” by Gladys Knight and The Pips. Gladys Knight, the “Empress of Soul,” is a Georgia native and Atlanta restaurateur, and the song is from 1976 movie she starred in called Pipe Dreams, which was filmed in Alaska. Thanks for reading!

(Video from YouTube.)

About the Authors:

Madeleine Dargis is in her second year at American University in Washington, DC where she is pursuing a degree in criminal justice. She was raised in northern Virginia. You can reach her at md8095a@student. american.edu.

Keira Waites is a sophomore at American University majoring in business. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia where she attended international school. She is passionate about film and plans to work in the entertainment industry. You can reach her at kw6751a@student. american.edu.



US Arctic
Our Arctic Nation

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