After turtle rehab, it’s back to the sea

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Meatball needed to learn how to swim without her front flipper.

The Atlantic green sea turtle was rescued in 2015.

And now, after her stay at Sea Turtle Inc., she and her two buddies, Mitch and Liz, are ready for their natural habitat again — the ocean.

The three sea turtles were released last night after completing their two-year rehabilitation.

Meatball had lost a flipper while entangled in a plastic bag.

Mitch was attacked by a predator.

And Liz was injured in the jetties.

“One of our missions is to treat and release injured turtles,” said Jeff George, executive director at Sea Turtle Inc. “In a year’s time we treat at least 100 turtles.”

Sea Turtle Inc. was founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, known as the “The Turtle Lady of South Padre Island.”

Originally formed to aid in the protection of the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the mission has since expanded to include education, rehabilitation and conservation of many types of sea turtles.

George said the Island organization works with four different sea turtle species.

“There are eight species in the world and they are all endangered,” George said.

In 1999, Sea Turtle Inc. moved from Ila’s backyard into its current location at 6617 Padre Blvd.

“We patrol the southernmost 47 miles of Texas on ATVs all day long looking for sea turtles,” George said.

Next year Sea Turtle Inc. will have a new $3.8 million facility. They are scheduled to break ground this summer on the five acres of land purchased to house all the sea turtles.

George said the new facility is necessary. An anonymous donor matched the organizations’s capital campaign making it possible to complete the project by the end of 2017.

“Our clinic is overflowing and our visitor’s center is overflowing with tourists,” George said.