How one lady's passion for saving sea turtles has blossomed into a multimillion dollar effort to save the sea turtles of South Padre Island in South Texas.
Ila Fox Loetscher was known in her hometown of South Padre Island as the Sea Turtle Lady. That makes sense, of course, since she was a noted advocate for the care and preservation of sea turtles and the founder of Sea Turtle Inc, a non-profit corporation focused on protecting and preserving sea turtles, particularly the Kemp’s ridley marine turtle. Although she passed away in 2000, her legacy, hard work and dedication still lives on.
How a one-woman mission became a multimillion dollar conservation effort
Her mission started very simply in her backyard in 1977, if not sometime before that. Locals remember her “living and breathing” sea turtles, always on a mission to save each and every one. Her drive was to rescue and protect the marine turtles, and when needed, help them recover safely.
In 1999, Loetscher's humble goal relocated from her tiny backyard to its current location, on the Texas island’s main street, Padre Boulevard. And today, the corporation does just what she started out to do, plus the group’s mission has expanded to educate, rehabilitate and conserve.
“Sea turtles are ancient creatures. They go back 100 million years. They are dinosaurs alive today,” says Jeff George, executive director of Sea Turtle, Inc. “The best part is healing them and getting them back in the ocean where they belong.”
Now you can visit Sea Turtle, Inc.
Visit this South Padre Island attraction and see the conservation in action -- up close and personal. Walk from tank to tank, reading about each individual turtle’s story and how the group is treating the creature. Listen to a staff member give an informal lecture about what Sea Turtle Inc. does and how you can help the species thrive (don’t throw out plastic bottles and trash in the ocean!). Ask questions. Visit the quaint gift shop. Everything here is about these marine creatures.
Each turtle has a name, and a story. Take Gerry. He started out as a hatchling that Loetcher, shown in the photo, raised in her backyard, starting in 1980. Gerry was moved from her backyard and believe it or not, Gerry still lives at Sea Turtle Inc. He’s expected to live at least 100 more years. Why wasn’t he released and why can’t he be now? He is too socialized. The key is to rescue the turtle, let it heal or get it well and release it. Gerry stayed too long and is now part of the family.
But Gerry is just one of many stories at Sea Turtle, Inc. The group treats and releases an average of 100 injured sea turtles per year. There’s Allison, the only sea turtle in the country to ever be given a prosthetic fin (a record-breaking piece of history that happened at Sea Turtle, Inc.). There’s Merry Christmas, an Atlantic Green; Hang Ten, a Kemp’s ridley; and Fred, a loggerhead. They will maintain permanent residency in the large aquariums at the new facility, a $4 million expansion completed in September 2016. But, most will find their way back to the sea. Sometimes it only takes a few months, but other times much longer. The goal, however, is to get them back to the open waters.
Leaving a stamp on the world
“There isn’t a lot of money to be made in this business, in marine biology. But the point is to leave a stamp on this world,” says Executive Director George. “My job, and others like me elsewhere and here at Sea Turtle Inc, is to keep the species alive.” And you can help.
If you are on a beach and see tiny sea turtles, don’t touch them, but instead call the local wildlife group. Watch for holes in the sandy beach, which can sometimes be hatchling nests. And regarding South Padre Island’s Sea Turtle, Inc., donations help with the upkeep of the sea turtles housed at the facility and are the life support of the group. This includes food, medications, heaters, filters, water and electricity. Donations are also used to support Sea Turtle, Inc.’s educational programs, plus about 20 percent of the group’s income is used to fund alternative resource and conservation projects involving sea turtles around the world, increasing conservation reach.
For more information or to become involved in the sea turtle rescue effort:
Sea Turtle, Inc.
6617 Padre Boulevard
South Padre Island, TX 78597
(956) 761-4511, http://www.seaturtleinc.org
Hatchling Hotline: (956) 433-5735
Open from 10 am - 4 pm Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. In the summer months, hours are extended from 10 am - 5 pm.
Free, but a donation of $4 for adults and $2 for children over the age of 4 is suggested. The sole source of income for Sea Turtle, Inc. is public donations and gift shop sales. The group does not receive any government funding.
Photos courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc.