05/21/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

From Costa Rica to Massachusetts, Changing Our Habits to Help the Environment

By Emily Mitchell, Student at The Bromfield School, Harvard, Mass.

In April, thirty students from The Bromfield School in Harvard, Mass. donned their hiking sneakers and incognito clothing, and on the coast of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, started on a quest. Led by biologists from the Sea Turtle Conservancy, small groups of students who were participating in EF's Global Student Leaders Summit, armed with infrared flashlights, stumbled through the sand in single file for miles on end. It was dark, it was humid, it was exhausting, but no one dared utter a word of complaint. Everyone was there in search of one thing: the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Located in the larger region of Limon, Tortuguero is one of the few small rural villages of Costa Rica with Caribbean coastline. Here you can find crocodiles, toucans, even sloths, but Tortuguero's claim to fame is tortugas- sea turtles. In this town, the Sea Turtle Conservancy has stationed its headquarters. This is a group of scientists and volunteers who strive to environmentally educate the community, the country and the globe.

But why would the Sea Turtle Conservancy want to educate Tortuguero? Being the home of four different breeds of sea turtles, with the most populated waters of the Caribbean and Central American countries, wouldn't the locals know everything about protecting these animals? Today, absolutely. Sixty years ago, hardly.

In 1950s Tortuguero, the only form of employment was one solitary saw mill. Families weren't making enough money to live comfortably. They needed to find another method of income, one that was abundant enough to sustain their lifestyles. So what did they turn to? The consumption and sale of sea turtles.

Tortuguero's plentiful number of turtles allowed the locals to hunt freely. As countries worldwide demanded these exotic animals for their own enjoyment, these products became the main income for Tortuguero. Locals ate sea turtle meat, watching their health and lifespan rapidly increase with its rich nutrients. However, they didn't realize that the populations of the Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Loggerhead Sea Turtles were decreasing exponentially, to the point of endangerment.

In the early 1950's, an American biologist named Archie Carr began to teach about environmental sustainability, and aided the hunters in changing their mentalities about the defenseless sea turtles. The new generation of locals, the "Children of Tortuguero" as they call themselves, began to realize that they did not want to be the generation that rid the world of their community's most prized possession.

With the help of the locals, Carr founded the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Biologists and volunteers from around the world came to Tortuguero in hopes of interacting with and caring for the four breeds of local sea turtles. Finally, the village of Tortuguero and a new generation of locals, called the "Children of Tortuguero," found harmony in economic stability and environmental sustainability.

Now, sixty years later, all ideals still stand, and the STC has become a popular center for ecotourism and research. Tortuguero is on the map again, but on different terms. It is now known for its admirable change of mentality in preserving sea turtles.

Just like the "Children of Tortuguero" generation, my classmates and I from the Bromfield School in Massachusetts are looking to protect our Earth's future. All marine life is threatened by deadly pollution, such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, oil spills, human waste, factory debris, mindless poaching and it goes on. And ironically, the one thing that has such an immense power to save these creatures is the one thing that is killing them.

After spending time learning from locals in Tortuguero and attending the EF Global Student Leaders Summit, many young leaders are now well aware of this. We've arrived back home with the knowledge and skills to change the world. As we learned in Costa Rica, you can make changes to keep pollution out of our seas, keep trees in our forests, and also to conserve energy right in your own home.

Here are ten easy ways you can start helping the environment today:

  1. Instead of buying a case of 36 plastic water bottles destined for a landfill or the ocean, buy a reusable bottle for everyone in the family.
  2. Shake your hands before taking a paper towel in the bathroom - then you'll only need one sheet. Better yet, air dry!
  3. Use CFL light bulbs and other appliances with Energy Star certification.
  4. Try meatless Mondays! It takes five times more water to produce a meal with meat than without.
  5. Turn off your faucet while brushing your teeth.
  6. If you're at the beach, throw away all your trash.
  7. Unplug your device chargers when they're not in use.
  8. Shop at second-hand stores and vintage boutiques so you're wearing clothing that was already produced.
  9. Cut down on your shower time - for every two minutes, you could save 2 gallons of water.
  10. Most importantly, apply to a college that supports eco-friendly initiatives and pursue a career in environmental sustainability!

To learn more about what you can do in your own home to save the world, check out our project from the EF Global Student Leaders Summit.

All of us who traveled to Costa Rica are excited to share our ideas with students from around the world through EF's Summit! Follow us on Twitter at #EFSummit or on Facebook at

About the Global Student Leaders Summit Series
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and EF Education First, in recognition of the 2013 EF Global Student Leaders Summit in Costa Rica (April 20 and 21, 2013). Each year, the EF Global Student Leaders Summit brings together hundreds of high school students and teachers from around the world for experiential learning tours and a leadership and innovation conference to help the next generation of leaders understand and solve critical global issues. Learn more about EF Education First and the Global Student Leaders Summit.