South Padre Island – The sands of South Padre Island are a stupendous summer stop on The Texas Bucket List, but when you’re down on the island it doesn’t all have to be about the sand and surf. If you’re up for something that will get you out of your shell, situated smack dab on the center of South Padre is Sea Turtle, Inc.
“These people are very passionate about what they do,” Jeff George said.
For 26 years, Jeff George has had a role in keeping this Texas treasure on its totally tubular turtle mission.
“Sea turtles are endangered species, they live in and around South Padre Island,” Jeff said. “Our mission is to treat the injured turtles and release them. We also take care of all the nesting activity, the eggs and the baby turtles on South Padre. And one of our big components is creating public awareness.”
Throughout the year, injured sea turtles make their way to Sea Turtle, Inc. via volunteers and regular folks who come across turtles in a tight spot along Texas beaches.
“We’ve seen some horrific injuries and animals make it, we’ve seen turtles released as juveniles, finally, come back and lays eggs as a mom,” Jeff said. “And so, these are very heartwarming stories, but they’re amazing animals.”
It was over 40 year ago in 1977 that this sea turtle sanctuary was started by women affectionately known as, “The Turtle Lady.” Ila Fox Loetscher started all of this in her backyard and thanks to donations, it’s grown into what it is today.
“So this is the educational center that we’ve made for public awareness, education,” Jeff said. “And these are turtles that can’t be released. So these tanks go from 20,000 to 55,000 gallons of water. There’s sea water that’s filtered continuously, these are tanks large enough to send a diver, a human being into the tank with turtles that aren’t going to be released, much like aquariums. But it presents the opportunity for people to actually communicate with somebody actually in there with the turtle. What’s that skin feel like? How hard is that shell? What does this turtle eat? So it’s great way to engage kids and the public, and let them see people interacting with sea turtles.”
Getting a good look at these Loggerheads, Hawksbills, Kemp’s Ridley and Green Sea turtles is a terrific treat, but seeing the work that’s done will make you flap your flippers. Nina Nahvi is a bit newer here, and she sticks her neck out when it comes to her passion for turtles.
“I love talking about sea turtles, I love talking about sea turtle rehab,” Nina said. “ I think it’s great that the public can actually come here and see these injured animals, hear their stories, which, nine times out of ten, they’re here for human related reasons, whether it be entanglement, fishing hooks, hit by boats. So I think it’s really important for people to actually come here and actually see these turtles in the various stages of the rehabilitation process.”
Much like a turtle in race, the slow and steady work of rehabilitating these sea creatures is a thorough process. Others take a bit more time with injuries that really make you realize how resilient turtles can be.
“These are amazing animals,” Jeff said. “They can recover from some horrific injuries where they’re nearly sliced in half, where a propeller is going all the way to the lung, and they’re making remarkable recovery. Honestly, it’s that they are such amazing, hearty, resilient, animals that they can recover with a little bit of human help.”
Considering these animals have been hanging out on South Padre long before Spring Break was a thing, keeping the reptiles regulars is part of the mission here. That’s why volunteers scour the beaches making sure nests are marked and properly cared for.
“That’s the legacy we’re leaving, is helping this population recover to keep the species alive,” Jeff said. “None of us make a lot of money, none of us ever will, but we’re passionate about our oceans, we’re passionate about the sea turtles in our oceans and that’s what drives us every day, that’s what gets us up in the morning, that’s what keeps us up at night with the hatchlings. And so, many of us are working 15, 16 hour days because we love what we do.”
If you’re passionate about sea turtles or simply want to see some folks that are, Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island is well-worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“Until you’re nose to nose or up close and personal with a sea turtle, you just don’t get the sense of how magnificent, how beautiful they are, how majestic they are, how prehistoric they are, until you can lay eyes on them,” Jeff said.