By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
While some teenagers spent their summer break in front of the TV, Reagan Zuelzke spent hers snorkeling among colorful reefs in the tropical waters of Costa Rica.
Zuelzke, an incoming junior at Lakota High School, was one of 12 Girl Scouts throughout the United States selected to spend 15 days participating in a Scuba and Sea Turtle Adventure offered by Outward Bound Costa Rica.
Outward Bound Costa Rica has been a Girl Scouts of America Destination since 2009, offering three Scuba and Sea Turtle Adventure sessions each summer. In addition, the organization has three other programs available to Girl Scouts: Catching Waves in Costa Rica, Rainforest River & Reef, and Costa Rica & Panama Service Challenge.
From July 1-15, Zuelzke and her fellow Girl Scouts swam with exotic fish, went scuba diving 60-feet below sea level, participated in water sports and island activities, went zip lining and played a vital role in the preservation of local sea turtles.
“It was really cool,” Zuelzke said of her time in the water. “There were so many bright colors and the fish were so close.”
As part of the sea turtle project in San San Pond Sak, Panama, she participated in nightly patrols, cataloging of nests, habitat creation and the releasing of newly hatched baby turtles into the ocean.
“It was really fun watching them go out and start their lives,” Zuelzke said.
The turtles are protected from vultures, poachers, harmful fishing lines and trash left on nearby beaches. As one of the few places on the planet where the turtles come to lay their eggs, Zuelzke’s participation is part of a major conservation project.
“Without these efforts, sea turtle populations would continue to be in danger,” said Brynna Rao, media and marketing manager for Outward Bound Costa Rica.
Zuelzke then spent time in San Jose, Panama where her group became scuba certified in the tropical waters before going wakeboarding and taking a tour of the city.
“It was fun. It was cool learning about how different people live — even just in our country, too,” she said, adding all of her fellow Girl Scouts were from different parts of the United States.
The trip also gave Zuelzke a greater appreciation for the life she has back home in Fostoria. While staying with some of the locals in Panama, she and the rest of her group had to shower with buckets as some families had little access to water.
“A lot of people don’t even have running water and they don’t normally even go 10 miles away from home most of the time,” she said. “Their home is the only place they’ve ever been. … It definitely made me appreciate my life more.”
Rao said all of Outward Bound Costa Rica’s Girl Scouts programs were created to help participants discover their hidden potential outside the traditional classroom setting — inspiring growth and confidence.
“We hope each Girl Scout will walk away from this experience with greater self-confidence, an incredible sense of accomplishment and an appreciation of their lives back home,” she said.
Outward Bound Costa Rica offers Gap Year/Semester Abroad courses in the fall and spring, allowing students to earn academic credits as well as international outdoors education certifications.
There are also two-to-seven-week Summer Expeditions for students 14-18 years old, adult summer courses in Costa Rica and Panama and group programs for companies, schools and retreats.
For more information, visit http://outwardboundcostarica.org/programs/girl-scout-destinations/.