Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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20181121 SPI SeaTurtleInc. GU 9146Sea Turtle, Inc. opened a new facility on South Padre Island on January 1 of this year. The facility is used to preserve and protect the giant sea turtles that populate the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre waters and nest on the beaches of the island. They also conduct educational programs to teach the public about the sea turtles and their importance to the sea ecology.

The new Sea Turtle, Inc. facility is located on South Padre Island behind the old facility. According to Jean Pettit, administrative assistant, the new facility has new, larger tanks that house the giant sea turtles. The new tanks also have windows in the side of each tank to make it easier for the public to view the turtles. The facility also features a larger area for outdoor presentations and viewing the turtles. The new tanks are being painted to create a sea theme. One is the view of the land around the Laguna Madre. There is now an indoor classroom that is used during inclement weather, and the public can now enjoy a much nicer gift shop.

As a sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility, Sea Turtle Inc. also houses sea turtles that would not survive if released. Outside in their tanks, there are green sea turtles and a Hawksbill sea turtle that have been injured or were born with a deformity and cannot be released into the wild. They are kept for teaching purposes so school children and visiting adults can see the large turtles while learning about the need to preserve the oceans and especially the Laguna Madre.

Pettit said the Laguna Madre has been recognized as one of the six most important nesting grounds for marine animals in the world. Green sea turtles can live up to 100 years and many live in the Laguna Madre.

Merry Christmas, an Atlantic green sea turtle, was born without a flipper and ecologists did not want her mating and possibly spreading this trait so she is kept in captivity.

Allison lost her flipper in a shark attack. For a while she could not swim in a large tank until someone created a prosthesis for her.

“She now swims around the tank and has no idea she is handicapped,” said Pettit.

Fred the Loggerhead was rescued and rehabbed three times near Port Aransas. Each time he was released, he was found later starving and unable to sustain himself. He is now a permanent resident at Sea Turtle, Inc.

Dave Cromwell, former Midwestern television journalist, now volunteers his time to the preservation of sea turtles. He is working with Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island to inform visitors about the importance of maintaining and increasing the number of sea turtles in the oceans. He also lectures about the importance of the waters7 of the Laguna Madre.

During a recent presentation to visitors at the center, Cromwell said the large Hawksbill turtle species feeds on sponges. Sponges are detrimental to coral reefs and can destroy them. Many of the coral reefs in the oceans are endangered for one reason or another. A Leatherback’s favorite food is jellyfish and they will eat their weight in jellyfish each day. Currently there are 60,000 to 70,000 Hawksbills in the Atlantic.

Cromwell claims millions of years ago there was an opening between north and South American right where the Panama Canal is located today. Turtles and other marine life used this opening to swim back and forth between the two oceans regularly. But through underwater volcanic action, the gap was closed. Most of the giant turtles were on the Atlantic side at the time, while only a few were in the Pacific side.

Cromwell told the audience, for many years no one knew where the Kemp Ridley turtles nested. Finally, it was discovered they were nesting at Rancho Nueva in Tamaulipas, about 200 miles south of South Padre Island. In an event called an arribada, or arrival, up to 40,000 Kemp’s Ridley Turtles would arrive in one night, dig nests and deposit two to three million eggs in the sand before going out to sea.

Once their nesting was discovered in the 1940s, there was a large demand for the eggs for cosmetics, oils and other uses. This practice seriously reduced the turtle population and they were becoming endangered. The eggs were also cooked or sold as aphrodisiacs. Turtle skins were prized for cowboy boots.

By the 1980s the turtles were greatly endangered with an estimated population of 250,000 in the Atlantic Ocean and only 300 in the Pacific. U.S. Fish and Wildlife bought 24,000 eggs from Mexico and transplanted them to the South Padre Island seashore. By 2010 there were 200,000 turtles when the British petroleum oil spill killed 48 percent of the nests, according to Cromwell.

He said every effort is being made to protect the eggs on South Padre Island. When the nests are located, they are moved to safe corrals and guarded from predators. Once the turtles make their journey from their nests to the water, they are swept up and taken to a “Headstart” project where they are allowed to grow to give them a better chance at survival. Then they are released into the ocean.

Cromwell said sudden drops in water temperature could kill the turtles in the Laguna Madre. He said that when there are drastic drops in temperature, people from Sea Turtle, Inc. and volunteers go out in boats looking for turtles affected that the cold waters. The affected turtles are picked up and taken to the old Sea Turtle, Inc. facility where they operate a turtle hospital where they are gradually warmed up and returned to the Laguna Madre when the cold water temperatures are no longer a threat.

Cromwell cautioned the audience to help protect the Laguna Madre, keeping it clean of trash, which turtles mistake for food.
Those who would like to learn more about the turtles can visit the new center, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors 62 and over and children ages five to 17. Small children are admitted free. For more information call (956) 761-4511 or go online to www.seaturtleinc.org.

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