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Sea Turtles Lead LMU Student to a Better Understanding of Ecosystems


Mike Lee AB 
Costa RicaWalking a Costa Rican beach during the middle of the night looking for leatherback sea turtles and their eggs might not sound like a typical spring break. But for junior English major Mike Lee, it has been one of his most memorable college experiences.

“Participating in an Alternative Breaks trip has been some of the most important time I’ve spent during my college career,” Lee said. “It’s an excellent way for students to see how we can use our college education for good and to help better our surroundings.”

Lee traveled with 10 other LMU students to Tortuguero, Costa Rica, from March 27 to– April 3 to learn about protecting endangered ecosystems. Working closely with the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, a nonprofit organization that has been conducting research on sea turtles for the past 50 years, the LMU group searched the beach for sea turtles, checked them for diseases, tagged them, and counted and measured their eggs.

“Costa Rica is famous for its beaches. We would walk the beach any time between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. Some nights were OK because of the moonlight. Other nights were strange and eerie. We were careful to not trip over any of the turtles,” Lee said.

Tortuguero’s economy used to be dependent on poaching the sea turtles and their eggs, but now the town thrives on ecotourism for its main source of revenue. “Poaching sea turtles and their eggs is such an unsustainable lifestyle. Once the turtles die out, so will the community,” Lee said. “Humans and the environment can work together and both can benefit.”

Lee said that the most challenging part of the trip was resisting becoming attached to the sea turtles. He became particularly attached to a 1½-meter long turtle. “It would be so hard to come back and find them missing. They might go back into the ocean or poachers might get them. I couldn’t think about that,” Lee said. "It was difficult for us to see how just one person, [such as a poacher, could] ruin so much of the hard work done by the community and the researchers."

The Alternative Breaks Program at Loyola Marymount University offers students a chance to immerse themselves in a different culture, be involved in hands-on service experiences and educate themselves about international political and socioeconomic issues. AB trips are as varied in topic as they are in location, such as learning about community organizing in Central Valley, Calif., to exploring faith traditions in Pune, India.

Posted May 10, 2010