On particular days from May through August, the National Park Service invites the public to watch as they release baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back into the wild on North Padre Island and it’s one of the most spectacular things to do in Texas with kids. Visitors will marvel at a stunning sunrise and a spectacular natural event that most people never get to witness. Little children are frequently awake at the crack of dawn, so if you have to be awake too, you might as well make it worth your while!
Padre Island National Seashore is a U.S. state park and is a barrier island which runs for 70 miles off of the Texas coast. The north side is best accessed from Corpus Christi—it is about a 20-minute drive from the city on Park Road 22 East. This north part of the island is a nature-lover’s paradise; the south part of the island is a spring break favorite. Located about a three-hour drive from North Padre, South Padre Island is an adventure hub where visitors enjoy everything from windsurfing and parasailing to jet skiing on the Gulf of Mexico.
The baby turtles are released from the Malaquite Beach Visitor Center on North Padre Island. Visitors can stay at a cozy accommodation in town or pack up the supplies and camp out on the beach. There are several camp sites, but the first, and probably the most convenient one, is the Malaquite Beach Campsite; it is just a short 10-minute walk down the beach from the spot where the turtles are released.
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was on the brink of extinction in 1978 when the United States and Mexico combined forces to save them. Today, the park rangers of the National Park Service collect the eggs from several nests and take care of them on their journey from egg shell to ocean.
The National Park Service website has a table which shows what nests will be hatching and when, but it is not an exact science. They give a range of four or five days when the eggs should be hatching, so be sure to plan your trip around “opening day”. When the eggs begin to go into a frenzy, the Park Service puts an announcement on the website and their Facebook page to proclaim that the release will occur the following day at 6:45am. They also have a hotline so visitors can check in to see if a release will take place or not.
The baby sea turtles are quite a sight
It is still fairly dark out at 6:20am when the rangers arrive and begin to talk to the early risers about the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and protocol for the event. By 6:45am, the crowd is antsy to get on the beach, and finally they are allowed to descend the wooden walkway, kick off their flip-flops and make their way to the taped-in area. Within the boundaries of the tape, park rangers hold up white plastic tubing with colored streamers at the end to fend off hungry seagulls and others walk around with the little creatures in their gloved hands to give the crowd a close-up glimpse.
One by one the little buggers are released from the case they were carried to the beach in, and they start to push themselves across the sand toward the waves. By this point in the morning, the fiery orange disk is sending bright white light bouncing off of the waves and shooting pink light over the sky. Visitors are not allowed to wear white or use the flash on their cameras as it mimics the natural sunlight; the bright light of the sunrise is actually what the baby turtles are following and helps them find their way into the sea.The baby turtles are no more than two inches across and two inches wide; it is hard to believe that such a large, majestic creature starts out life so small! They look like slow spiders scurrying across the sand. The process can be a bit slow, but when that first turtle catches a wave at water’s edge, the entire crowd cheers and applauds his vivacious effort. Children especially will like to see the waves rush the shore and sweep one—or several—baby turtles out into the water. For a few minutes you can watch their tiny little heads bob above the water as they swim away.
The light is still soft in the sky as you and the kiddos head back up the beach to the gift shop where there is a life-sized (and graphic) replica of a momma turtle laying her eggs, a hands-on sand pit where children are encouraged to pick up shells and examine animals bones and shells and a gift shop where they can choose a souvenir to remember the experience by—although that is hardly necessary, the event is incredibly memorable.
Enjoy the beach
The release of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is a fun activity, but there is plenty more to enjoy while visiting North Padre. Pull out the binoculars and head down the road to bird watch in Bird Island Basin. Several beaches in the area are ideal for shelling, so grab a bucket and see what interesting looking shells (free souvenirs) you can find while combing the beach with your kids. Spend the day playing in the waves and building sand castles or enjoy one of the daily programs offered by the Park Rangers at the Malaquite Visitor Center, such as the Junior Ranger program, a beach walk or Hidden Treasures where kids are invited to catch, learn about and release creatures that they find at the water’s edge—all ideal activities for an active family with children.
For more information visit:
North Padre Island
Sea Turtle Hatching Releases