Frequently Asked Questions
How far can I drive down island? Can I get to South Padre from here?
Depending upon current beach conditions two-wheel drive vehicles may drive safely on the first five miles of south beach, after that four-wheel drive is necessary as there are frequent pockets of soft sand down to approximately the 25- or 30-mile marker and an area of deep, soft sand for a few miles after that. Somewhere around the 35-40 mile marker, however, the beach starts to become solid again. However, even with a four-wheel drive vehicle you cannot reachSouth Padre Islandfrom here. Mansfield Channel forms the southern boundary of the park at the 60 mile marker and there is no bridge or ferry over it to get toSouth Padre Island.
There are three main areas for good birding by the visitor: the shore, the park road, andBird Island Basin. Anywhere along the seashore is excellent for spotting a large variety of shorebirds including the endangered Snowy Plover and Piping Plover. Driving the park road will often enable one to see raptors and birds often associated with grasslands.BirdIsland Basinis an excellent spot for watching marsh and shorebirds as well as raptors. For more information on birds and birding go to the Nature and Science section of the park's main website.
The average wind is fairly strong (approximately 7 to 30 miles per hour) and usually comes from the southeast. During winter, the wind is not as strong and on occasion shift direction to the north.
Where is the best shelling?
Shelling is less a matter of "where", than a matter of "when". Shelling is best after a storm has passed through, producing a large storm surge, pushing large amounts of debris and shells far up onto the beach. Other than that, it would be best to go to an isolated area down island where few people venture, and thus there are fewer shell collectors to pick them up before you. However, be aware that after the five-mile marker a four-wheel drive vehicle is needed because of the frequent pockets of deep, soft sand.
Why is there so much trash on the beach, and is anyone doing anything about it?
The predominant southeast wind drives the currents in theGulf of Mexicoto our location in the Northwest corner. As a result, anything that falls or is tossed into the Gulf eventually ends up here. Most of these objects will, of course, be those that fall in closest to our shore and these tend to be objects from the fishing/shrimping industries and offshore natural gas platforms. Trying to keep more than 63 miles of beach clean is a monumental task and we do the best with the resources available. To a large degree we rely on public participation in placing wastes in the proper containers and in periodic beach clean-ups.
Where can I go to see sea turtles?
The best place to go is the Texas State Aquarium inCorpus Christi. They have several on display, which have permanent injuries and would not survive in the wild. Although we have an ongoing project to restore the sea turtle populations in theGulf of Mexico, we do not keep any on display at the Park. Our project consists of finding as many sea turtle nests as we can and taking the eggs to an incubation facility at the ranger station. There the eggs are cared for until they hatch. After hatching, we release them into theGulf of Mexico. The releases are announced in the media so the public may attend.
What are the large, transparent things laying on the beach?
There are several species of jellyfish living in theGulf of Mexicoof which three frequently wash up on our shore: Moon jellies, Sea Nettles, and Cabbagehead (also known as Cannonball) jellyfish. Of these three, Cabbageheads are harmless to people, but, in most cases, moon jellies and sea nettles can produce a rash similar to poison ivy, if handled. Reactions may be more severe in those few people especially sensitive to jellyfish toxins.
What are the little things sometimes seen on the shore that look like semi-inflated blue balloons with long, black threads attached? Another species of jellyfish?
These are Portuguese Man-O-War. They are not jellyfish, but actually a small colony of various creatures working together and functioning as one animal. The long, black threads are its hunting tentacles and can inflict an extremely painful sting on anyone who touches them, even days after the animal has died. Fortunately, the antidote is a simple mixture of vinegar and meat tenderizer and works very quickly. If anyone should be stung, first aid is available at theMalaquite Beach Visitor Center.
Are there sharks in theGulf of Mexico?
There are at least 33 species of shark in the Gulf of Mexico, but shark attacks at the National Seashore are extremely rare, the last having been sometime in the mid-1980's.
Both deer and coyotes are quite numerous and both tend to stay in the interior grasslands, where food is more plentiful and people are fewer. The best time and place to see them is in the morning or evening along the road, Park Road 22. Campers should be aware that coyotes, while they would not normally bother people, can present a danger to pets. Please do not feed or approach wildlife.
Where are the Whooping Cranes?
Whooping Cranes do not winter at the National Seashore, but approximately 85 miles north along the coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Sandhill cranes spend their winters here, when they may often be seen walking through the grasslands.
What is the difference between dolphins and porpoises and do you ever see any here?
There is much confusion as to what is a dolphin and what is a porpoise. Making matters worse is the fact that while there is a marine mammal commonly known as a dolphin, there is also a species of fish known as a dolphin (also known by its Hawaiian name "mahi-mahi"). Most of the time, however, when people say they are thinking of the marine mammal, familiar to everyone from the TV series "Flipper" and that is what is addressed here. Although the names are often used interchangeably, technically, porpoises always have spade-shape teeth, never have a beak, and usually have a dorsal fin shaped like a triangle (some have no dorsal fin). One of the more prominent distinguishing physical characteristics is that dolphins have a cone-shaped teeth, usually have a beak, and usually have a hooked or curved dorsal fin (some have no dorsal fin). Anything visible from the National Seashore will be a dolphin. During the summer dolphins are occasionally sighted playing in the surf immediately in front of theVisitors Center.
Are there a lot of mosquitoes here during the summer?
Because a large part of the island is marsh there can be incredible numbers of mosquitoes at times, however, the normal offshore wind is strong enough to keep most flying insects off the beaches. This is one reason we encourage people not to go into the grasslands or off the beach, it can be extremely uncomfortable. If you plan on walking the Grasslands Nature Trail during the summer, be certain to apply plenty of insect repellant and you should have no problem.