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Get Captivated

Where to see captive sea turtles in Texas
Written by Melissa Gaskill. Photographs by Jesse Cancelmo.

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While nothing matches meeting a wild sea turtle on a beach or in the ocean, coming face-to-face with one in a rehabilitation or educational facility is also a thrill. It’s also easier and drier. Here are several places to see captive sea turtles in Texas:

See sea turtles in the wild or catch a sea turtle hatching release.

Sea Turtle, Inc.

This nonprofit center on South Padre Island treats injured turtles and offers daily presentations to meet its non-releasable residents, including one-flippered Allison, a green sea turtle that wears a special wetsuit with a dorsal fin. The open-air facility has informative displays and a gift shop selling goods that provide alternate income to those living near nesting beaches around the world. Rehab releases on a nearby beach are scheduled a couple of weeks in advance, while hatchling releases are held as conditions merit.

6617 Padre Blvd. Opens Tue-Sun 10-4. Educational presentations are held throughout the day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a turtle feeding at 10:45 a.m. Suggested donation of $3 for adults, $2 for children. Call 956/761-4511.

Galveston NOAA Sea Turtle Facility

On Thursdays by appointment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southeast Fisheries Science Center offers tours (limited to visitors age 7 and older) that include a presentation about Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the center’s research on turtle-friendly fishing gear, as well as a visit to the captive turtle rearing facility, which houses hundreds of turtles. Anytime you find a turtle onshore or catch one while fishing, call 866-TURTLE-5. Hooked sea turtles may have hooks inside their bodies, which the hospital can remove.

Historic Fort Crockett, 4700 Avenue U, Galveston. Tours by appointment. Free. Call 409/766-3500.

SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium

Home to sharks, rays, many species of reef fish, seahorses, and other marine species, this aquarium also houses three sea turtles unable to return to the wild: greens Boomer and Eddie and Squirt, a Kemp’s ridley. Visitors can learn more about them at daily education talks and feeding times.

3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway, Grapevine. Hours of admission are Mon-Fri 10-6:30, Sat 10-7:30, Sun 11-5:30 (the aquarium closes 90 minutes after the last admission). Adults $20, children $16. Call 877/819-7677.

Texas A&M University At Galveston Sea Life Facility

Stranded sea turtles come to this research laboratory and rehabilitation facility to grow stronger prior to release. In the outreach center, watch the turtles in their tanks through large windows and via live-streaming cameras. A sea turtle skeleton hangs from the ceiling, and a display contains debris that harmed specific animals in the facility. The bookstore sells T-shirts bearing images of marine life, including sea turtles, with the proceeds helping fund turtle food. The public is invited when a recovered sea turtle is released onshore.

200 Seawolf Parkway, Pelican Island. Opens Mon-Sat 9-4, and Sun 10-2. Free. Call 409/740-4574.

Texas Sea Life Center

This facility adjacent to Packery Channel Nature Park on North Padre Island rehabilitates and releases injured and stranded sea turtles. Visitors can see recuperating Kemp’s ridley, green, loggerhead, and hawksbills swimming in tanks behind the building; educational displays inside; and other rescued animals including raptors and reptiles.

14220 South Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi. Opens Wed-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4. Free, $5 donation suggested. Call 361/589-4023.

Texas State Aquarium

Six resident sea turtles here include a Kemp’s ridley, a hawksbill, a loggerhead, and three greens. Observe the turtles through windows in their circular habitat and learn more about them at the daily “Turtle Tales” program (check website for times). Aquarium staff members work with federal officials to decide when turtles can return to the sea, with releases handled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies. Typically, releases occur far offshore.

2710 N. Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi. Opens daily 9-6 March through Labor Day, and 9-5 daily the rest of the year. Check website for admission prices. Call 800/477-GULF.

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