CMU students save hatching sea turtles through Alternative Breaks

Popular service experience program at CMU ranked fourth nationally
Alternative Breaks

A group of Central Michigan University students helped hatching sea turtles in Palm Beach, Fla., through Alternative Breaks during their last few weeks of summer break.

Belleville senior Rachel Dybicki joined 11 other CMU students for a week to help these turtles survive tough odds, remove invasive species from parks, and learn about the rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles. This was her sixth Alternative Breaks experience.

“We were looking for baby turtles because, when the sun heats up, the baby turtles stop. You would have to find them before they got burned up by the sun,” said Dybicki, who serves as the CMU Alternative Breaks chairperson.

Dybicki said there are 100 to 200 eggs per nest, but only one out of 1,000 sea turtles will make it to maturity.

“Basically it’s a hard life out there for a little turtle,” she said. “There are seagulls, sharks or bigger fish that will eat these baby turtles.”

CMU’s Alternative Breaks program is offered through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. Students can pick a service experience dedicated to various social issues, such as children’s health care, historical preservation and food justice.

The university’s Alternative Breaks program is ranked fourth nationally for the number of students participating in the trips, with 415 participants last year. Though there are 19 different breaks to choose from this year, Dybicki said it’s a race to sign up. 

“Spaces fill up within about five minutes,” she said. “It’s spreading like wildfire. It’s definitely one of the most popular programs on campus.”

Dybicki said the cost averages $128 per trip for each student, which includes food, travel and housing.

“I really feel passionate about everyone doing an Alternative Break before they graduate. It really adds to the CMU experience,” she said. “Without the Alternative Breaks program, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I feel like my overall CMU experience has been made so much better through Alternative Breaks.”

Sterling Heights senior Rebecca Pittman said the trip has taught her about the threatened Loggerhead Turtle and the endangered Green Sea Turtle, as well as a few other lessons she’ll be able to use in life.

“This is a week I will truly never forget, and the lessons I have learned are endless,” Pittman said. “This break has taught me how to take a step back from this crazy world we all live in and take time to appreciate nature, wildlife and the little things we take for granted each day.”

Students interested in an Alternative Winter Break must sign up on Monday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 a.m. Sign-ups for the Alternative Spring Break open on Oct. 7.

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Rachel Esterline Perkins

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