Participation of volunteers has been vital to the success of sea turtle conservation and research efforts since they began. Today, over 100 volunteers participate each year. 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 grown since then. From the start, volunteers have been a very large portion of the patrollers. Volunteers have also provided important aid with various other aspects of the program including radio dispatch, data entry, egg care, hatchling release, necropsy of dead turtles, and many other activities.
Local establishments have displayed posters developed by the National Seashore to educate the public about Kemp's ridley turtles nesting locally and encourage them to report their observations so that the nesting turtles and nests can be protected. Display of these posters has been an important means to reach both local citizens and visitors to the area with this educational message.
Each year, some sea turtle nests and stranded sea turtles are found as a result of reports from other people working or recreating on the beach. Several employees of other agencies and businesses that work on the beach attend training sessions presented by the National Seashore on what to watch for and do regarding nesting turtles, nests, and stranded turtles. These reports help enable biologists to document and protect these threatened and endangered turtles.
The community has conceived and developed many projects that have helped 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. These efforts have been important in educating the public about the presence of these turtle at the National Seashore and how they can view them. Each year, several hatchling releases are open to the public and thousands of people attend.
A life-size bronze sculpture entitled "The Journey's End" that depicts two Kemp's ridley turtles returning to the beach where they were born to mate and lay eggs, resides in Ullberg Park on North Padre Island. The sculpture was created by world famous artist Kent Ullberg. In March 2005, the sculpture was installed by local residents and the park was dedicated and renamed to honor the artist's work and recognize his generous contributions to the community. Other supporters that made this sculpture and upgrades to Ullberg Park possible were 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, and Padre Island Kiwanis Club, and donations from residents. For more information, link to this article.
Local agencies partnered with Texas Department of Transportation to place four 15'x5' sign 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 this primary gateway on and off North Padre Island.
Local groups developed a resolution passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005 "Designating North Padre Island as the Sea Turtle Capital of Texas". Their justification for this designation was the importance of Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island to nesting Kemp's ridley turtles and the three decades of conservation activities conducted on their behalf there. Also included was the demonstrated community support of this work through the Kemp's ridley sculpture in Ullberg Park and the Kemp's ridley paintings on the J.F.K. Causeway.
Local groups 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. This water tower is visible within a large area along Park Road 22, to both residents and people that travel to and from the beach.
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, situated on Aransas Bay in 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.
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 then President Bush and Mrs. Bush. The tree was the centerpiece of decorations 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 Rockport artist, 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.
In September 2006, Kris Wimer, owner of an art gallery on North Padre Island, created a fund raiser for the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle called Turtle Trail 2006. Inspired by the Chicago Cows, Bears in Lake Tahoe, and Dolphins in Corpus Christi, painted aluminum turtles were the art objects that 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 (Animal Rehabilitation Keep), where injured animals from the coastal Bend, including the National Seashore, are taken to receive care.