Nature Conservancy acquires 6,200 acres to protect sea turtles

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — As the nesting season for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles approaches, Sea Turtle Inc. volunteers and staff have started gearing up for their annual nesting patrols.

As part of their conservation efforts, personnel relocate dozens of nests found on the Island and Boca Chica Beach to safe locations each spring and summer.

Sea Turtle Inc. conservation and internship coordinator Mariana Devlin feels “extremely thankful” there are other organizations and entities that are “just as interested in helping species, especially sea turtles in the Texas coast.”

The Nature Conservancy is one of those.

The global nonprofit announced this month, the acquisition of more than 6,200 acres of the Island’s last unprotected stretch of land.

The nearly $16 million effort has been conducted with private landowners to secure and safeguard the “most important nesting habitat in the country” for critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, according to a press release from The Nature Conservancy.

The acquisition will close in two phases.

The first portion closed March 7 and the second will close this fall.

According to The Nature Conservancy, the newly-protected acres on the Island will be incorporated into surrounding wildlife refuge lands at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

All existing access to the Gulf beach frontage will remain open for the public.

The acreage acquisitions are being funded with more then $10.5 million in grant support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill funded $5.4 million.

“South Padre Island is home to some of the most pristine and productive coastal shorelines throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico,” said National Fish and Wildlife Foundation executive director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. “Protecting and restoring these rich ecosystems along the south Texas coast is one of the most effective ways we can help wildlife recover from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Nature Conservancy personnel hope to see Kemp’s ridley sea turtles’ numbers swell again so future generations can see the area’s native plants and wildlife.

The acquisition will be the largest conservation effort on the Island since 2000.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have such a strong coalition of partners dedicated to this effort, which will go a long way toward closing the largest gap in unprotected land on the world’s largest barrier island,” said The Nature Conservancy Texas regional director Laura Huffman. “Protecting these natural resources protects our collective future.”

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

According to Nature Conservancy personnel:

• Contact with humans and human development could produce “false crawls,” which is when turtles enter the beach, but do not nest.

• Protecting the remaining length of wild, undeveloped coastline they are acquiring is vital for replenishing Kemp’s ridley turtles.

• In addition to protecting habitat for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the land acquisition will also help conserve habitat for 16 animal species, including the peregrine falcon, piping plover, multiple species of shorebirds, wading birds, migrant birds, loggerhead sea turtles and green sea turtles.

KEMP’S RIDLEY SEA TURTLES

• Nest primarily along the Gulf of Mexico.

• They are the smallest and most critically endangered of the seven turtle species.

• Their population was historically threatened by predation, poaching, over-harvesting and by-catch from the commercial shrimping industry.

Source: The Nature Conservancy