Sea Turtle Inc.  

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photos provided by Sea Turtle Inc.

Operating out of South Padre Island, Texas, Sea Turtle Inc. is on a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles. Since 1977, the team, primarily volunteers, has been assisting in conservation efforts and educating the public on the importance of sea turtles to the ecosystem.

“We do a little bit of everything,” CEO Wendy Knight said.

Knight explained how the sea turtles of South Padre are currently in nesting season, meaning a family enjoying a summer day at the beach might have a sea turtle come up beside them and start laying her nest of turtle eggs.

“It’s our responsibility to protect those nesting females,” she said.

Nesting season is a busy time for Sea Turtle Inc. Last year the organization protected over one hundred nests and over 10,000 baby hatchlings.

“We have about eight hours’ worth of patrols that happen all day, every day at this time of year, watching for nesting and hatchlings. We spend the night overnight in a tent watching for those babies to come through. If you visit South Padre Island in the month of June, July or Aug., it’s very possible that you’ll be here on a morning where we host a public release and you can actually see babies [being] released into the Gulf of Mexico,” Knight said.

“We also have a fully functioning hospital,” she said.

“We take anywhere from 50 to 150 patients a year and protect anywhere from five hundred to five thousand cold-stunned sea turtles every year through our hospital. [We offer] intake, patient care, surgical care and therapy [all with] the ultimate goal of releasing them back out into the ocean.”

Cold-stunned is a state in which sea turtles become very weak and lethargic due to exposure to cold temperatures. It generally occurs when water temperatures fall below 50˚F where sea turtles are present. If cold-stunned sea turtles aren’t properly cared for, they can get sick and die.

Sea turtles are some of the ocean’s most beautiful and alluring creatures. However, their beauty and allure aren’t the main arguments for their protection. Sea turtles are a keystone species, meaning they help define an entire ecosystem under the sea.

“One particular species of sea turtle eats its body weight in jellyfish a day. And that body weight can be anywhere from two hundred to three hundred pounds. So imagine what the oceans would be like if those sea turtles didn’t exist and they weren’t able to chomp on those jellyfish out in the water,” Knight said.

There are seven species of sea turtles listed on the federal endangered species list, Knight said. The most critically endangered, the Kemp’s Ridley, lives and nests on South Padre Island.

Along with conservation efforts for these precious sea turtles, Sea Turtle Inc. has an expansive education branch. Their resident center is over seven thousand square feet, including 100,000 gallons of water, hosting in-house sea turtles. These sea turtles serve as education animals allowing the public to learn more about the creatures and the necessary efforts to protect them.

One of the most remarkable things about Sea Turtle Inc. is its committed volunteers and donors. The entire organization has only about 20 paid employees.

“This organization is fully empowered by our volunteer teams,” Knight said.

“It’s just a bunch of good people that are trying to do the right thing.”

“My favorite part about this job is [being] in constant awe of the capacity of people to help an animal that can’t help itself. You always talk to people about how they want to do the right thing but to have a front-row view of it,” she said.

To learn more about Sea Turtle Inc., visit seaturtleinc.org. If planning to visit South Padre Island this summer, note their Emergency Turtle Report Line at (956) 243-4361. Sea Turtle Inc. responds 24/7 to information on nesting, hurt, or stranded sea turtles.

Jillian Cameron