Padre Island National Seashore's Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery is very fortunate to have the support of the community and the support of many dedicated volunteers.
Participation of volunteers has been vital to the success of sea turtle conservation and research efforts since the program began over four decades ago. Today, over 100 volunteers participate annually. Patrols to detect, document, and protect nesting Kemp's ridley sea turtles and sea turtle nests began at Padre Island National Seashore in 1986 and have continued to grow. From the start, volunteers have been a large part of the program. Volunteers provide important aid with various aspects of the program including radio dispatch, data entry, egg care, hatchling release, necropsy of dead turtles, and many other activities.
The community has conceived and developed many projects to help raise awareness about, and celebrate the presence of, sea turtles in this area. Various web sites, tourist guides, and information centers have included and distributed information about nesting Kemp's ridley sea turtles and hatchling releases. One example is the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau website (CCCVB). The CCCVB’s efforts have been important in terms of public education and community involvement. They play a role in generating interest in sea turtles, public hatchling release and the National Seashore. Each year, several hatchling releases are open to the public and thousands of people attend.
Local businesses also support the park by displaying National Park Service posters. The posters provide important information to the public about Kemp's ridley turtle nesting activity and encourage the public to report sea turtle observations. Display of these posters has been an effective method to reach both local citizens and visitors to the area. Every year, sea turtle nests and stranded sea turtles are found as a result of reports from people working or recreating on the beach. Employees from agencies and businesses working on the beach attend annual training sessions presented by the National Seashore. Agency attendees learn how to detect and how to report and respond to nesting turtles, nests, and stranded turtles. The reports enable biologists to document and protect threatened and endangered turtles.
Support also comes in art form! A life-size bronze sculpture created by world famous artist Kent Ullberg resides in Ullberg Park on North Padre Island. The sculpture, "The Journey's End" depicts two Kemp's ridley turtles returning to the beach. In March 2005, the sculpture was installed by local residents and the park was dedicated and renamed to honor the artist's work and his generous contributions to the community. Many supporters made this sculpture and upgrades to Ullberg Park possible, including the Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, Beautify Corpus Christi Association, Padre Isles Country Club, Padre Island Property Owners Association, Arts and Cultural Commission, Coastal Bend Community Foundation, Rotary Club, Padre Island Kiwanis Club, and local residents. In 2008, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle sculpture entitled "Return of Ancient Wisdom" was unveiled at the Rockport Center for the Arts Sculpture Garden, in Aransas Bay, Rockport, Texas. The 4'x5' sculpture is a bronze cast from burl wood that was created by nationally acclaimed sculptor Leo E. Osborne. The dedication ceremony recognized Padre Island National Seashore as the most important Kemp's ridley nesting beach in the U.S. and for their long-term Kemp's ridley conservation efforts. And recently a mural depicting a sea turtle hatchling entitled, “A Breath of Fresh Air”, was painted in downtown Corpus Christi.
Local supporters have also developed a resolution passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005, "Designating North Padre Island as the Sea Turtle Capital of Texas". The justification for the designation was the importance of Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island to nesting Kemp's ridley turtles and decades of conservation activities conducted on their behalf.
When traveling to Padre Island National Seashore, you may notice artwork and signs with turtles along the roadways. These projects were promoted by community supporters. Local agencies partnered with Texas Department of Transportation to place four 15'x5' bridge panels featuring Kemp's ridley sea turtles at the entrance to North Padre Island on the J.F.K. Causeway. The Kemp's ridley images were etched and painted and are prominently seen by those using the highway to North Padre Island. Local groups also spear-headed the painting of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle on the water tower on North Padre Island. Input received from the community strongly supported selection of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle over any other animal. The water tower is visible within a large area along Park Road 22, to both residents and people traveling to and from the beach.
Local artists have also raised money in support of turtle conservation. In September 2006, Kris Wimer, owner of an art gallery on North Padre Island, initiated a fund raiser for the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Inspired by the Chicago Cows, Bears in Lake Tahoe, and Dolphins in Corpus Christi, painted aluminum sea turtles were sold for the benefit of the Kemp's Ridley Recovery Program at the Padre Island National Seashore. Forty-seven turtles sponsored by local businesses and individuals were auctioned in April 2007 and 100% of the proceeds, over $49,000, went to the Recovery Project. Turtle Trail 2008 was conducted similarly and proceeds benefited the ARK (Amos Rehabilitation Keep), where injured animals from the Coastal Bend, including the National Seashore, are taken to receive care.
Support for the National Park Service and Padre Island National Seashore was also displayed in Washington! In 2007, the official White House Christmas Tree, in the Blue Room of the White House, was adorned with an ornament depicting the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. The National Park Service was selected as the theme for the White House holiday decorations by President and Mrs. Bush. The tree was the centerpiece celebrating that year's theme of "Holiday in the National Parks." The tree was decorated with handmade ornaments representing the country's 391 National Park Service sites. Kay Barnebey, a local artist in Rockport, was invited by Padre Island National Seashore officials to illustrate a recognizable feature of the park. Barnebey chose to create a spherical representation of the life cycle of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. After the tree was disassembled, "The Christmas Circle of Life" ball became a part of the permanent collection of the White House.