Dr. Shaver and the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery
Learn and Explore
The Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore is the only division of its kind in the entire National Park system.
Led by Dr. Donna Shaver, this program focuses on the five sea turtle species - Kemp's ridley, green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback. All are federally listed as threatened or endangered.
Padre Island National Seashore began conservation efforts of sea turtles in the 1970s. It was then the National Park Service led the formation of a bi-national program to restore the Kemp's ridley population. The Kemp’s ridley historically nested from Mustang Island, Texas to Veracruz, Mexico. Since the 1970s, Park Service staff and volunteers at Padre Island National Seashore have worked diligently to recover the Kemp's ridley. The program has expanded to include protection and conservation measures for four species occurring along Padre Island. Today, more Kemp's ridley sea turtles nest at Padre Island National Seashore than any other locations in the U.S.
In the 1970s, the park also began the Sea Turtle Standing and Salvage Network (STSSN) in Texas, and later became part of the National STSSN in 1980. Park staff have served as the Texas Coordinator of the STSSN since the 1970s.
A primary goal of the program is to conduct scientific research. Sea turtles spend 99% of their lives in the water and can travel thousands of miles. Their migratory habits make it difficult to conduct research on population dynamics, foraging habits, and critical habitat. Scientific research can help reveal this information and lead to actions that help save sea turtles.
Research conducted by the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery staff includes satellite tracking Kemp's ridley and other sea turtle species, analyzing effects of egg incubation temperatures on sex ratios of hatchlings, and juvenile green sea turtle studies. The research is part of global efforts to conserve sea turtles and could not be done without local, state, national, and international partners.
Information gained from research is published and applied here at the park to help sea turtles. Staff work with other entities involved in sea turtle conservation to share information that will help improve methods used to protect and conserve sea turtles.
Learn about these projects and more on our research page.
Another goal of the program is to conduct activities that directly help protect, conserve, and recover sea turtle populations. Each summer, staff and volunteers patrol beaches in search of nesting sea turtles and nests. Females found nesting are protected while on the beach, and nests found are moved to protected areas that are safe from predators, vehicular traffic, and other hazards. Nests are protected and monitored until they hatch; then the hatchlings are released. When conditions allow, the public is invited to attend hatchling releases. Division staff members work with partners to help support nesting patrols along the Gulf Coast, provide technical assistance and training, and coordinate these efforts along the beaches of Texas and Mexico. The Division collaborates with partners to collect, maintain, and analyze nesting records for all sea turtle nests found in Texas.
Division staff and volunteers respond to reports of stranded sea turtles as part of the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN). If alive, stranded sea turtles are taken to rehabilitation facilities operated by one of our partners. If dead, stranded sea turtles are documented, examined, and often salvaged for research purposes. Dr. Shaver serves as the Texas State Coordinator for the STSSN. She and her staff provide training, technical assistance, and support to partners involved in STSSN efforts in Texas. They also collaborate with these partners to collect, maintain, and analyze all Texas stranding records.
When severe cold weather events occur during the winter, Division staff and volunteers patrol the shores and waters of the Laguna Madre to find and rescue cold stunned sea turtles. With the help of many partners, cold stunned turtles are rescued, rehabilitated, and released. When conditions allow, the public is invited to watch cold stunned releases. Dr. Shaver and her staff collaborate with these partners to receive, maintain, and analyze records of cold stunned turtles in Texas.
A major goal of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery program is to promote public awareness of and support for sea turtles and their conservation through education. In fact, you are reading some of this educational information right now! Sea turtles can travel to and be affected by human activities in many different countries around the world. Our website and Facebook Page are important educational tools that can effectively reach many thousands of people around the globe to raise awareness about sea turtles and their plight. We cannot save sea turtles without the help and support of local communities, global citizens, and visitors like you.
The most popular and effective educational programs we offer are our public hatchling releases. These programs offer rare opportunities to see live, newly hatched sea turtles up close. Park Rangers present a short educational program prior to each release. Volunteers and Park Rangers provide educational information and bring hatchlings around to visitors for close-up views and no-flash photos. Visitors watch as hatchlings crawl across the beach and swim off into the Gulf of Mexico. For some, it is a life-changing experience. Public hatchling releases are often the focus of extensive media coverage that can reach thousands more people to raise public awareness and increase support for Kemp's ridley and other sea turtle recovery efforts.
Occasionally in winter, we also hold cold stunned sea turtle releases, where juvenile sea turtles rescued during severe cold weather events are released back into the wild. Volunteers, partners, and Park Rangers provide educational information and offer close-up views of these young sea turtles before releasing them directly into the water. It is an amazing and rare event to witness.
Park Rangers conduct both on-site and off-site educational programs for students from pre-kindergarten through college. Thousands of students from area schools, churches, home schools, and other groups learn about sea turtles each year through these free programs. Educational groups are also eligible for assistance with transportation costs for field trips to the seashore. Park staff members also conduct many educational programs for area civic organizations, clubs, and other interested groups. To find out more about scheduling an educational trip to Padre Island National Seashore, contact the Education Coordinator at (361) 949-8068.
The Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery, Dr. Donna Shaver, has spent the last 40 years helping endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. To find out more about her (and someone else who has helped turtles) click the images below.