ES and Biology Students ‘Learn to Serve’ in Mexico

Posted on April 15th, 2012 by

ES/Bio students release sea turtles.

Amy Hughes (Bio & ES, '12), Phoebe Breed (Nursing '12), Angela Traetow (ES and Bio, '14) and Marissa Shepherd (Bio, '12) transport baskets of baby olive ridley sea turtles from their protective enclosure to release them to the sea. Petatlan Mexico, 2012.

Eight Gustavus students spent spring break 2012 in Petatlan, Mexico.  This was the second “Learning to Serve” program spent in Saint Peter’s sister city.  In addition to the Nursing project continued from 2011, new projects in Spanish language and Environmental Consulting were added.

The goal of the environment project was to learn how Saint Peter and the Gustavus community can help Petatlan develop sustainable ecotourism and draw greater attention to their environmental concerns.  Four students learned how environmental service can be conducted internationally:  Amy Hughes (Biology, ’12; minor in Env Studies), Angela Traetow (Environmental Studies and Biology, ’14), Ethan Degner (Biology Honors, ’12; minors in Env Studies and Geography), and Marissa Shepherd (Biology, ’12; minor in History).  Like Saint Peter, Petatlan is a community approximately one hour away from a prosperous tourist city.  The students toured the tourism of Ixtapa, a major tourist resort that caters mostly to wealthy Americans.  Tourism development in Ixtapa has been done largely without regard to the environment.  The students saw American crocodiles driven together by habitat loss, and their last stressed refuge turned into a ‘wildlife’ viewing area.

Back in the Petatlan and nearby Potosi, the students conducted a series of interviews with community leaders, business owners, sea turtle conservation staff, exotic animal veterinarians, fishermen and natural resource cooperatives.  True to their Minnesota education, they canoed around the brackish water lagoons that form the livelihood for many families, even staying up all to fish alongside local fishermen.

Perhaps the most moving learning to serve concerned the sea turtles.  Leatherback, olive ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles all nest in Petatlan’s beaches.  The students toured both commercial and volunteer turtle ‘camps’ which remove turtle eggs from natural nests into protected enclosures.  This is done to fight nest and turtle loss by poaching, where people will kill sea turtles for their eggs (which net about $1 USD per dozen).  Despite this horrific practice, everyone was entranced by the opportunity to release baby sea turtles to the sea, lowering hatchling mortality and giving hope that a new generation will return to Petatlan.

In addition to the environmental consultation, other Gusties spent time in Petatlan.  The nursing and language projects were conducted by Phoebe Breed (Nursing, ’12), Greg Wiessner (Bioche Molec Bio, ’14; minor in LALACS), and Jennifer Hernandez (Spanish ’13, minor in LALACS).  The Learning to Serve program is coordinated by Jeffrey Rathlef (Center for Servant Leadership) and intern Annabel Landaverde (Political Science, ’12; minor in LALACS), and ES participation was made possible in part by funding from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.  Team leaders for the 2012 projects were:  Angelique Dwyer (Spanish, LALACS), Barbara Zust (Nursing), Ben Leonard (Nicollet County Historical Society), Joel Carlin (Biology, Environmental Studies) and Susan Carlin (Saint Peter City Council).

To learn more about the Learning to Serve trip, please come to the open house for the greater Saint Peter community at the Saint Peter Treaty Site History Center on Sunday, May 6 at 4pm.


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