Selling coffee to save turtles

  • By Melissa Slager For the Enterprise
  • Tuesday, February 16, 2010 8:55pm

Tebra Draper, 16, can pull out her notes and list off some interesting facts about the leatherback sea turtles that nest on Costa Rica’s Caribbean beaches.

The massive turtles can reach lengths of 7 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds, feeding largely on jellyfish, their food de elección.

“They’re big boys — big ladies, too,” said Draper, adding females lay up to 80 eggs at a time.

But now the high school sophomore is ready to stop reading and start seeing what she’s learning about.

The leatherbacks are a highly publicized target of poachers and conservationists alike, who try to outmaneuver each other to either exploit or protect the turtles and their prized eggs.

“I want to save some turtles and maybe see some babies hatch – that’d be cool,” Draper said.

Draper is among a dozen Scriber Lake High School teens hoping to raise enough money to make such a trip to Costa Rica this May, at the height of sea turtle season.

So far, the teen has raised $350 toward the $2,333 she needs to make the trip through Poulsbo-based EcoTeach, largely through selling bags of fair-trade Costa Rican coffee.

All together, the school is hoping to raise nearly $28,000. Teacher Chris Brown said the group is a little over halfway to their goal, thanks in good part to the local Rotary Club, the Edmonds Exchange Club and shoppers outside the local PCC market.

“Now we really have to dig in to make this happen,” Brown said.

This is more than an excursion to the tropics.

“It’s life changing. I really mean that,” Brown said.

Scriber Lake is a small alternative school that takes in kids who don’t mesh with the traditional high school experience. Many of its students also come from low-income families. In other words, they don’t fit the bill of the school groups that most often take these kinds of eco-adventure trips – the “we-can-write-a-check-for-it kind of people,” as Brown puts it.

But the school did just that two years ago, when a group of 15 students went to Costa Rica on the school’s first-ever international trip.

“When I see the kids who came back … it’s still on the fronts of their minds,” Brown said.

That inaugural effort was led by teacher Marjie Bowker and Brown. Bowker, who now teaches in Vietnam, has been encouraging Brown as he attempts to pull off this second trip.

“The fact that I know it can be done is driving me on here – that, and e-mails from Vietnam saying ‘you can do it,’” Brown said.

EcoTeach leads the trips from its office in Costa Rica, hiring local guides and tapping its other connections.

Students will help corral turtle eggs into protected areas, clean up trash on beaches, visit a local indigenous tribe and ride a zip line, among many other adventures, learning about reforestation efforts, endangered species, agricultural culture and various animal habitats along the way.

“I’m really excited,” said Draper, who is now looking for other hot spots to sell coffee and writing letters to potential donors. “I’m not sure what I expect to get out of it, but I’ve heard amazing things. … I can’t wait.”

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