By KREIG KOHL
Special to the PRESS
As the storms of spring begin to lessen and the sun shines brightly over the Laguna Madre, tourists have begun making their way to South Padre Island for the Texas summer. Flocking to the beach, they are joined by one of South Padre’s more reclusive creatures, the sea turtle.
Sea turtle nesting season tends to line up with summer on SPI and will typically see thousands of turtles come to the Island to lay eggs on the beach. With the turtles also comes a heavier workload for the employees and volunteers of Sea Turtle Inc, SPI’s sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation clinic. Wendy Knight, CEO of Sea Turtle Inc, said of the nesting season, “Nesting Season tends to run from mid-April until September. South Padre Island is lucky to be one of the few places in the world where the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle nests, and that’s important because they are the only turtle that nests during the day time.”
Continuing on Knight said, “Sea Turtle Inc. is a 46-year-old non-profit here on the Island that’s dedicated to sea turtles, and what it means this time of year is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, breakneck-pace kind of work. The mamas nest during the day and the babies tend to be born at night. We are a small organization of 20 paid employees and about 500 volunteers who spend this time of year at a breakneck-pace to protect these animals.”
When asked about how tourists should respond if they see a turtle nesting Knight responded, “If you see any sea turtle outside of the water, you call our emergency line. That phone number is (956) 243-4361…The second thing we tell people to do is just stay back at least 20 feet and just enjoy the moment. The most important thing is to stay back and stay out of the way.”
Knight explained this further stating, “Nesting females are keenly aware of their surroundings, they can be easily spooked and easily scared. The most important thing is to stay at least 20 feet away from her, and just enjoy an experience you cannot see anywhere else. Our responders and permitted staff will respond to that nesting female and if you stick around you’ll get to see the process of her digging a nest, of us taking all the stats, of us tagging her so we can track her, and us taking the eggs to the coral.”
Knight clarified that scaring the turtle can lead to the turtle dropping the clutch, leaving it unprotected and unburied making the eggs unviable, or cause the turtle to go back into the water and not lay at all, making all the eggs lost as well.
“That’s why we tell you it’s so important to cover up holes…You know those big enormous holes for your umbrellas and sand castles and burying your dad in. Those are tons of fun and we want you to do that on the Island. We just want you to leave the beach like you were never there. That’s because sea turtles can fall into those holes. We’ve had upwards of five nests already this season where we have had to pull trash out of the nest with the eggs,” said Knight.
The previous nesting season in 2022 was a record breaking year for nests and hatchlings.
“We had over a hundred nests last year and over ten thousand hatchlings protected,” said Knight. Comparatively of this year, she added “We’re a little behind but not as behind as we thought we would be. We’re at 64 nests so far and about 6200 hatchlings along with that. That’s only a few nests away from where we were last year. We don’t expect a record breaking year this year but all we do is respond regardless of the size.”
For tourists who wish to see a hatchling release there is a way to do so.
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