SPI Attractions – Sea Turtle Rescue Center

Turtles in general, once abundant and productive, have declined to the point of extinction, particularly Kemp’s ridley turtles. In fact, the Kemp’s ridley is the world’s most endangered sea turtle. Only 50 years ago, the species had over 40,000 females nesting in a single day. That number has now dropped to less than 2,000 nests per year.

Only eight nests were discovered along the Texas coast in 1997. However, nesting grounds gradually expanded to include 51 nests in 2005. Observers counted 101 nests this year, a surprising increase that is encouraging to those fighting to save the species. While marine scientists are optimistic, they say it will be a long road to full recovery, if it can happen at all.

Hazardous Waters

For nesting and migrating Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the Texas coast is the most dangerous place on the planet. It is also the species’ only nesting site in the United States. The dangers increased dramatically as shipping, pleasure boating, and commercial fishing boomed along the Texas coast. With the increasing number of recreational beach visitors each year, as well as the encroachment of commercial development, the turtles’ chances for propagation and survival have decreased over time, with little hope of natural revival.

Padre Island Sea Turtles

The state experienced a bumper year for sea turtle nests all along the Texas coastline in 2006, with over sixty-four of the world’s most endangered sea turtles nesting at the Padre Island National Seashore. It was a particularly good year for the Kemp’s ridley, with over 101 nests discovered along the Texas coast. Volunteers were ecstatic this season when they discovered two loggerhead nests, one on South Padre Island and one at Padre Island National Seashore.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting and thrilling year for many long-term activists and concerned citizens who’ve worked long and hard for better protection for all of the migrating armored creatures who crawl onto our beaches to lay their eggs and raise their young. Fortunately, sea turtles have many supporters, including the Sea Turtle, Inc. organization, which has worked tirelessly to help turtles recover from near extinction.

One Woman’s Hope

Sea Turtle Inc., based on South Padre Island, has its own long and endearing history. The center was founded in 1977 by Ila Loetscher, also known as “the Turtle Lady of South Padre Island,” as the dream of a kind spirit fueled by grit, sweat, and unstoppable determination.

Ila Loetscher’s gift of heartfelt passion was to establish a mission on the island to educate the public about the plight of the dwindling sea turtle population. Hers was one of those unique voices, similar to Edward Abbey’s, “crying out to preserve the sacred wilderness.”

But it was a difficult task. She was preaching to the “X” Generation, who were obsessed with “me, me, me.” Nonetheless, she spoke up, often willing to go to any length for her turtles.

For example, when she was invited to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, she brought one of her most cherished turtles dressed in a handmade outfit. While a little unusual, the stunt did draw a lot of national attention to the plight of sea turtles. And it’s difficult to argue with results.

Viewers began sending money after seeing the show. Then there were more interview requests, and many people came to see the turtles on South Padre Island. What began as a single woman’s passion is now carried on by Sea Turtle Inc. and its qualified staff and volunteers. While Ila is no longer with us, her memory lives on through the legacy she has left behind.

While Sea Turtle, Inc. was founded specifically to help protect Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, its mission has since expanded to support the conservation of all marine turtle species along the Texas coast. Volunteers have spent years educating Texas schools, civic organizations, and tourist bureaus about the plight of these magnificent creatures, as well as aggressively engaging the media.

Volunteers have shared their stories of rehabilitation successes, interesting rescue stories, and environmental issues with anyone who would listen over the years.

While simple and a little cramped for space, the organization’s South Padre Island facility serves as an educational and rehabilitation center as well as a gathering place for supporters of the cause. The small facility also serves as an island attraction.

However, times have changed, and Sea Turtle, Inc. has outgrown the basic facility over the years. The organization is in desperate need of a larger facility in order to continue its research, education, and rehabilitation efforts.

A new $700,000 state-of-the-art facility has been designed, and a long-awaited groundbreaking is set to take place in 2007, thanks to local organizations such as the South Padre Island Community Foundation (SPICF) and public donations totaling $150,000.

A California-based architect donated their design services to the project as a result of their strong belief in and support for sea turtle preservation.

Once completed, the new Sea Turtle, Inc. Center will feature permanent exhibits and large acrylic aquariums with panoramic views of the sea turtles housed for research and rehabilitation. An educational area, a meeting room, a larger gift shop, and large, clear indoor tanks will be included. These indoor tanks are especially useful in the winter, as even on the coast, a sudden cold snap can be dangerous to these creatures.

There are numerous ways to contribute to the cause. Donations of both time and money are always welcome. Indeed, Sea Turtle, Inc. draws a large number of annual Winter Texan volunteers who return year after year to assist with the turtles.

The staff and supporters of Sea Turtle, Inc. invite you to enjoy the uncrowded beaches and stop by the center to help out our state’s oldest winter visitors – the ancient ocean dwellers known as turtles.

Turtle Resources

Padre Island Turtle Hatching
20420 Park Rd 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418

Sea Turtle Inc.

Gulf Office of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project on South Padre Island

Local Lodging

Surf Motel

Motel on the beach with bar and grill. We currently have selected standard and kitchenette rooms at special discount prices for winter Texan visitors. We also have 1 and 2 bedroom condos for rent. Please call the hotel at 1-800-723-6519.

Comfort Suites

This South Padre Island hotel is within walking distance to many of the shops and fine restaurants in this resort community. Visitors will also enjoy the miles of pearly-white beaches, waves and sand dunes that surround the hotel. Phone: (956) 772-9020 Fax: (956) 772-9022.