Turtles are part of the attraction at South Padre

By John Toth

The Bulletin


Our escape to South Padre Island could not conclude without a visit to Sea Turtle Inc., a non-profit organization rehabilitating and releasing sea turtles as well as offering educational services. It’s a destination spot.


The trip took only a minute, since the “sea turtle hospital” was located across the road from our hotel. We could have walked, but since we were checked out and in our car, we pulled out of the hotel driveway and into the Sea Turtle Inc. parking lot.


It was a Tuesday morning. I expected that we would be one of the few visitors there. But the parking lot was packed, and we had to park way in the back.


The admission fee for seniors was only $6 each. It was a small price to pay to see the workings of such a famous place.


We were greeted by a volunteer as soon as we walked in, and she was eager to guide us through the front part of the facility where the turtles that would eventually be released are housed in large tanks.


They were brought to the “hospital” after being attacked by a predator, getting entangled in lines and nets, being stunned by cold weather or getting an infection, bowel obstructions from plastic bags or being struck by a boat.


In the back, our volunteer guide pointed out, are the gift shop and the tanks in which turtles that cannot be released are housed.


Each year, she explained, the center rehabilitates and releases between 40 to 100 turtles.


That is the rewarding part.


But turtles that have lost 75% of their flippers are deemed unsuitable to be released in the wild and are housed at the center permanently.


“We have several resident sea turtles that stay at the facility all year long and act as educators and ambassadors for sea turtle conservation, including world-famous Allison, the first sea turtle in the world to use a successful prosthesis,” states the description on the group’s website.


The key to visiting here is to enjoy the facility and not get overwhelmed by turtle information, which is what was beginning to happen to me. A few days after our visit, I looked up Sea Turtle Inc. on the web and filled in the blanks.


Sea Turtle Inc. was founded by former pilot Ila Fox Loetscher, who began caring for sea turtles, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley, in 1965. She formed the non-profit corporation in 1977, and her efforts to care for turtles continued to spread. She was featured on the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.”


Loetscher died in 2000, but her work has been continued by a dozen staffers and hundreds of volunteers. The facility is now planning to expand even more to build a “first-class sea turtle hospital.”


There were more children than adults there when we visited, which I considered a plus. I enjoyed seeing those kids become more knowledgeable about the plight of sea turtles. But if you don’t like crowds, I would recommend that you visit after schools open, not during peak season, like we did. Sea Turtle Inc. is closed on Mondays, so do something else on the Island on that day - like walking on the miles of pristine beach.


Before leaving Sea Turtle Inc., we had to make a stop at its gift shop, where everything is more expensive than in the dozens of other gift shops on the Island. But it’s for a good cause. We chipped in - in a modest way, but others were loading up bags filled with Sea Turtle Inc. gift items.


The visit was a nice way to close out our 40th wedding anniversary getaway. Then it was time to say so long to South Padre Island, but we shall return.


(Send comments to john.bulletin@gmail.com. Or write to: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516.)