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Extraordinary Texans: Donna Shaver

The individuals who help make Texas special
Written by Randy Mallory. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

Donna Shaver

Donna shaver first glimpsed the Gulf of Mexico in 1980, arriving at Padre Island National Seashore as a college student to study the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. She soon dedicated her career to saving the smallest of the Gulf’s five species of sea turtles.

Shaver became director of the National Park Service’s turtle rescue program in 1986, when only 702 Kemp’s ridley nests existed anywhere. Four decades earlier, scientists studying the creature’s primary nesting ground at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, had counted 40,000 nests in one day. Human activity—fishing nets that drowned turtles and poachers who stole eggs—had pushed the Kemp’s ridley to the brink. 

To turn back the slide to extinction, Shaver coordinated park staff and thousands of volunteers during the next three decades. In spring, they located and protected eggs at Padre Island National Seashore. In summer, after the eggs hatched, they returned the hatchlings to the sea. The turtles became a source of pride and ecotourism on North Padre Island, which in 2005 became the official “Sea Turtle Capital of Texas.”

Last year, the program logged a record 209 Kemp’s ridley nests in Texas, including 116 on North Padre Island, up from only four in 1995.

“These creatures have existed for four million years, and human activity nearly eliminated them,” Shaver explains. “Our job is to right a wrong by protecting the turtle’s place in the web of life.”

In 2005 Donna Shaver was an ABC World News “Person of the Week.”  Last year, she received the National Park Service Director’s Award for Excellence in National Resource Research.

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