See Turtles

by Jessica on June 12, 2011

When you plan a vacation experience that hinges upon the whims of Mother Nature, you are destined to do a good amount of breath holding and finger crossing. Our trip to South Padre Island at the southern tip of Texas was planned in the spring when the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles began laying eggs. From then, hatching dates were forecasted around a five day window with no guarantees. Hedging our bets, we planned to make the ten hour trip to South Padre during a five day stretch in which several nests were scheduled to hatch.

Each day, I called with anticipation, only to learn that the turtles were not hatching and no release was scheduled. On the last planned day of our stay in South Padre, we learned that no hatches would be planned for at least two or three more days. Faced with a difficult decision, we tried to decide if we should extend our stay in South Padre, or continue on to Corpus Christi, where we had plans to meet two of the grandparents.

Waffling back and forth, we visited the Sea Turtle Inc. in hopes of nailing down a hatch time. To my delight, we learned that sea turtle releases were also planned in Corpus Christi and eggs were hatching as we spoke. No plans needed changing and as a bonus, we would get to watch the release along with Gary’s parents. Hopes lifted, we packed up and drove four hours north to Corpus Christi.

All sea turtles are endangered, but the Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered of them all. Being the smallest of the sea turtle family makes the Kemp’s ridleys easy targets for animal and human predators. After decades of poaching, the Kemp’s ridleys were virtually extinct. Concentrated conservation efforts, including transplanting eggs to hatcheries and hatchling releases, have increased the species to thriving numbers. During our visit, over 7000 nesting turtles were reported during one single day.

As if Mother Nature knew she was putting on a show, the day broke with a cool, clear morning and a brilliant sunrise. Around 100 eager visitors gathered on the observation deck as we waited for the signal to move down to the beach. Despite the number of children in the crowd, there was a collective hush as we walked towards the release sight. For a moment, there was just the soundtrack of seagulls and lapping waves as we waited the last few minutes for the sun to peek over the horizon.

When the light was right and the volunteers were positioned to scare away the gulls, hatchling turtles, no bigger than an Oreo cookie, were gently placed on the beach. Their movements were slow and labored, but they instinctively marched towards the surf. For the turtles, this march across the beach would be a part of their species survival. For the males, this would be their one and only glimpse of the land. But, for the females, the march across the beach allows them to imprint upon the beach, activating magnetic crystals inside their grape-sized brain. If they are among the fortunate, 1/3 of 1% that will survive until adulthood, this turtle GPS will orienteer the turtles to return to the beach to nest again and again.

The kids bestowed creative monikers like Sheldon, Michelle, and Mishellaneous on each of the turtles, as they kept a running commentary of the race towards ocean. Finally, the first wave of turtle hatchlings reached the surf and the labored steps turned into a flurry of flipper activity. The staff and spectators cheered as the hatchlings became full -fledged sea creatures and swam into the depths.

As we stood and watched as the last few of 106 hatchlings made their way to the surf, I wondered how the kids would react to the experience. Would they realize that they had been witness to the great circle of life and feel the innate connection? Or would they only remember the extra early rising and the trudging out onto the beach?  As the last few turtles slipped into the water Ryan turned and said, “It tickles my insides to watch the turtles go out into the water and fend for themselves.”

“Does it make you nervous,” I asked, wondering if he had latched on the dismal survival rate.

“No, it just…” and he paused to search for the right word to describe his feelings.

“It just moves me.”


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Ellen Ross June 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks for the comment on my advice blog, now following you as well! love this post. isnt it amazing how nature works. I was in FL last month and wanted so badly to see some sea turtles but never did. OH SO CUTE!! loved your pics!!

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Deanna C. June 13, 2011 at 10:47 am

Thanks so much for the sweet comment on my blog and joining too! Joining your blog as soon as blogger fixes whatever problem they are having today. lol

I love, love sea turtles, one of my most favorite of God’s creatures.

walkingontravels June 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

One thing they went on and on about this weekend was “show me, don’t tell me.” You did exactly that. I feel like I was right there with you. Baby turtles the size of Oreos? I would never think to describe something that way but I instantly knew what size you were talking about (I love oreos!). And the kids names for the turtles- how awesome is Mishellaneous! Love it!!! Great pics too lady. Keep them coming. Can never get enough of the itty bitty creatures of the sea in our house.

My Inspired Space June 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for following…following back…great pics…thanks for the comment on my flowers…be sure to stop by and link up to my new hop….

Connie From Girl Tech Divas June 15, 2011 at 9:12 am

New follower from the hop! Hope you can hop by and follow back!

Lisa June 16, 2011 at 9:58 am


Stopping by from the Thursday blog hop! :)

What amazing pictures!!!! It must have been so neat to be up close like that! They are so stinkin’ cute! I’m glad mother nature cooperated with you for this!


Sarah V. June 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Wow! Incredible! And you did an amazing job of capturing the moment in pictures.

Definitely going to share this one on Facebook!

Sonja June 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm

That is a terrific story! I was moved just reading it. I’m so glad there are people who care enough to help preserve this poor little helpless species.

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