If you're planning to spend some time relaxing on the Texas coast this summer, keep your eyes open for the experience of a lifetime–the nesting of Kemp's ridley turtles, a sea turtle species that once teetered on the brink of extinction.
Thanks to programs that began in the 1960s, biologists have begun to understand the complexity of these sea turtles' life cycles and how best to protect them. Today, when a nest is reported in Texas, the eggs are removed and taken to either an incubation facility at Padre Island National Seashore or to protected corrals at South Padre Island and Boca Chica beach. (The nesting, or egg-laying, process takes a scant hour.) Some 48 to 62 days later, the eggs hatch, and the little turtles are counted before being released into the Gulf. These hatchling releases draw hundreds of enthralled visitors to Padre Island National Seashore each summer.
To do your part in protecting these still-imperiled turtles, call 866/TURTLE-5 if you see nests or hatchlings. To find out when you can attend a Kemp's ridley hatchling release, which normally begin in late May, call 361/949-7163; www.nps.gov/pais. To learn more about turtle conservation, visit www.seaturtles.org and www.ridleyturtles.org. The headquarters of Sea TurtleIncorporatedd, begun by turtle conservationist Ila Loetscher (1905-2000) on South Padre Island in the 1970s, offers tours of its facilities at 10 a.m. daily. Call 956/761-4511; www.seaturtleinc.com.
From the March 1998 issue.