The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Sadie Allen. Sadie is spending the second part of her gap year in Croatia.

Upon my arrival in Split, Croatia, I was instantly charmed by the city. The stunning views of the Adriatic, the ruins of the Roman palace, the sunny weather– it all seemed like something out of my travel-inspired Pinterest board I made when I was 14. How could such a perfect place have any problems? The longer I have been here, though, I have gained a deeper understanding of the issues that hide behind Split’s picturesque front. Just like any city, social and political tensions are present, and there are many environmental and social issues that nonprofits and businesses are trying to solve.

One of the most famous features of Split is it’s clear, turquoise water. During the warmer months, sailors flock to Split, filling the marina and flitting to and from nearby islands. The sailing industry and the tourism around it, though, has a shockingly harmful impact on the aquatic environments in the Adriatic. From plastics being thrown overboard to the harmful chemicals in sunscreen killing aquatic wildlife, these companies have a detrimental effect on the fragile ecosystems of the Adriatic. The organization that I am currently serving, Green Sail, works with tourism, sailing, and yachting companies to make these businesses more sustainable. By helping these companies form environmental policies and input eco-friendly practices, Green Sail is helping combat the pollution and chemical poisoning of the Adriatic.

There are many political and social issues that plague Split as well, most notably the issue of the war for Croatian independence. Before Croatia gained its independence, they were under the rule of Yugoslavia. Croatians were often viewed as second-class citizens and endured decades of discrimination from Serbians, the favored ethnic group in Yugoslavia. After a brutal and violent fight, Croatia finally gained its independence. As this war was recent, it is a sensitive topic for many Croatians. In fact, it’s advised that tourists avoid the topic at all costs, as confrontations regarding the topic are common. Many people in Croatia lost friends, family, and loved ones in the war, so the issue still causes tension today.

Another issue that faces Split is the alarming number of stray animals wandering the streets. As many people live in small apartments, adopting animals is often not an option. This, coupled with the fact that spaying and neutering animals is not as common as in the US, leads to a high population of strays. Many animal shelters, though, are working to combat this problem. By encouraging the adoption of smaller pets, such as cats, and promoting the spaying and neutering of animals, local shelters are combating this problem. One local shelter, Bestie Split, also has outreach events in the community to encourage adoption. For example, they often host community dog walks to introduce pets to potential adopters. I hope to volunteer at one of these events and spend time with the pups while I am in Split.

Just like any big city, Split has many underlying social, political, and environmental issues that can cause conflict. By confronting these problems, many organizations are solving these issues, for the betterment of Split and its people.