Whenever I ask my children what they remember most about our trip to South Padre Island, they immediately answer, ‘Watching the sea turtles at Sea Turtle Inc.’ It’s their most cherished memory and ties at top with the SPI dolphin tour and meeting pirates at Port Isabel!
Sea Turtle Inc on South Padre Island is a truly unique place. It is dedicated to the preservation and rehabilitation of sea turtles and plays a vital role in the conservation of these magnificent marine creatures.
While this post narrates our experience of visiting South Padre Island, some things such as timings and entry costs change over time. Please refer to the Sea Turtle Inc website for latest information.
Sea Turtle, Inc – Humble beginnings
Sea Turtle Inc was founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, fondly known as the ‘Turtle Lady of South Padre.’ Her tireless efforts began when she saw the dire need to protect and rehabilitate injured sea turtles that washed ashore. Her passion led to the establishment of Sea Turtle Inc on the island. It came at a time when the population of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico was dwindling at a fast rate.
Since its humble beginnings, Sea Turtle Inc has saved the lives of hundreds of sea turtles in need. The center’s work revolves around the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured or stranded sea turtles. The staff and volunteers offer a safe environment for the endangered sea turtles and nurse them back to health with the goal of returning them to their natural habitat. The center also conducts vital research and educational programs to raise awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation.
Planning Your Visit
Sea Turtle Inc is located on South Padre Island, next to SPI Birding and Nature Center, an excellent birding facility on the island. The address of the center is 6617 Padre Blvd South Padre Island, TX 78597. The facility is open from Tuesday to Sunday at 10 am and closes at 4 pm for the day in winter. Summer hours are from 9 am to 5 pm. Check the website for most updated timings. We recommend reaching early at the opening time of 10 am to avoid crowds. Keep aside about 1.5 to 2 hours for your visit.
Things to do at Sea Turtle Inc
Visiting Sea Turtle Inc is an amazing experience. The center combines awareness and education with a get up close with these beautiful species. You can experience first hand the incredible work being done by the center. Sea Turtle Inc also has a very family-friendly layout and architecture with large sections being designed similar to a world class aquarium. Here’s how to make the most of your visit at Sea Turtle Inc on a self-guided tour of the facility.
Know Sea Turtle 101
For those who are new to sea turtles, the center offers a fantastic 101 lesson called ‘Turtle Talks’ for all ages. At the presentation, you will learn about the different sea turtle species (total of 7) in the world. You will also learn that the Gulf of Mexico is home to 5 of them: Kemp’s Ridley, Loggerhead, green sea turtle, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtle.
Our kids also learned that the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea Turtle is the official state turtle of Texas. It is the smallest of all sea turtles and olive green in color when an adult. Hatchlings are a dull gray and at risk from the moment a female lays an egg on the sandy beaches of Texas.
We also got to see several interesting exhibits about the sea turtles including their food, habitat, and other characteristics. We also got to compare their sizes and even touch empty turtle shells. Our kids loved learning about the crucial role sea turtles play in preserving the marine environment.
Understand the impact of human activities
One of the top missions of Sea Turtle Inc is to raise awareness about human impact on marine environments and increased risk to sea turtles. During the tour, we saw how marine debris such as fishing nets, plastic bottles, and bags can harm sea turtles. Other activities such as accidents with boats and poaching for human consumption are also decreasing their population at an alarming rate.
We also learned how we can reduce the impact of human activities by following a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. Since then, our kids have been very diligent about removing trash from beaches and being on the lookout for sea turtle nests. They also have a large glass tank in the education center that is filled with sea corals and saltwater fishes.
Watch the sea turtle feedings
Visitors can get up close and personal with sea turtles at Sea Turtle Inc. The center has a number of rehabilitating sea turtles at any given time. Throughout the day, they have turtle feedings during which you can learn more about the sea turtles and if lucky even feed them lettuce, under the expert supervision of the staff/volunteers.
Take the aquarium tour
In the aquarium / rehabilitation section of the center, you can meet sea turtles which permanently live there. These sea turtles cannot be released into the wild because of the nature of their injuries. Kids as well as adults love seeing these resident sea turtles swim around in their large glass tanks.
Some of the famous residents include Allison, an Atlantic Green Sea Turtle with prosthetic limb as well as Gerry, who was rescued by Ila Loetscher herself in 1980. Merry Christmas, who was stranded on the beach on Christmas Eve, is also a crowd favorite. You can read about the stories of the individual turtles as well as know their favorite foods!
School groups can join a guided tour of the facility. These tours are led by knowledgeable staff who will provide fascinating insights into the organization’s work and introduce you to some of the resident sea turtles.
Attend Baby Sea Turtle Hatchling Release
Female sea turtles lay eggs on the warm sand of South Padre Island and then swim back to sea, abandoning their nests. These nests are at high risk and very few baby turtles make it in the wild. The center incubates baby sea turtle eggs till they hatch and then release the hatchlings into the ocean. This greatly increases the chance of a sea turtle hatchling growing into an adult.
Visitors can watch some of these baby sea turtle hatchling releases on South Padre Island. The hatchlings release take place from mid-June to early August. The release takes place early in the morning at County Beach Access 4. The dates of the releases are posted on the center’s Facebook page in advance. It is an amazing experience to watch the newly hatched sea turtles swim out to meet the sea.
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Adopt a Sea Turtle
You can also adopt a sea turtle at Sea Turtle Inc. This ensure that turtle’s welfare. The center has multiple type of adoptions. You can adopt a newborn hatchling or a whole turtle nest or you can adopt one of the resident turtles. Patient adoptions ensure that injured turtles get proper treatment and increases their chances of being released into the wild. Couples can adopt sea turtle, one of the most romantic things on SoPadre.
Buy souvenirs at the Gift Shop
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, where you can find unique turtle-themed souvenirs, and proceeds go toward supporting their vital work. The gift shop has a variety of stuffed toys that will appeal to kids as well as caps and shirts in turtle/island theme. They also have books and games for kids.
Bird Watch from the boardwalk
The rehabilitation and education centers are connected by a wooden boardwalk trail over the lagoon. This trail is almost 500 feet long and from here you can also see the birds in the marshes. It’s a fun experience especially during migration season.
A visit to Sea Turtle Inc is not only a memorable experience but also a chance to save these precious sea creatures who call the Texas Gulf Coast home. You’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the life of these remarkable creatures and a renewed commitment to their preservation. So, while you enjoy the sun and sea of South Padre Island, make sure to include Sea Turtle Inc on your itinerary – it’s an adventure for the heart and soul.