How Can I See a Sea Turtle?

Learn and Explore

All five sea turtle species found in the Gulf of Mexico have been documented at Padre Island National Seashore. And the different species use the park in different ways all year long.

Would you like to see a sea turtle? Find out how you might be able to see one in the wild or during a release, and at what time of the year they may be found.

 
A Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesting on a beach of sand and shells next to green vegetation with the ocean in the background.
A Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesting at the base of the dunes.

NPS Photo.

Sea Turtles Nesting on the Beach

Species: Kemp’s ridley, Green, Loggerhead
When: April - September

Each year, a few extremely fortunate visitors see a sea turtle nesting on the beach. The chances of seeing such an event are very low. However, if you are on the beaches of Padre Island between April and August, you might see a sea turtle crawling or nesting on the beach. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest during the day between April and mid-July. At Padre Island National Seashore, we find Green and Loggerhead nests from May until September. Because Green and Loggerhead sea turtles nest mostly at night or early morning, the chances of seeing one nest is low.

 

If you see a nesting sea turtle, what should you do?

  • Please do not disturb her or she may go back into the water without nesting. View her from a distance.
  • Help protect her from vehicles - she will be hard to see and cannot move out of the way.
  • Immediately flag down a turtle patroller, park ranger or call us at 361-949-8173 ext. 226.
  • If she digs a hole, wait until she starts crawling back toward the water and then carefully put something on top of the sand to mark that spot.
  • Take photos or video if you can. Look for any metal tags on her flippers.


Please help us find and protect sea turtles and their nests. Drive slowly on the beach in summer, especially on days when you see a turtle flag flying in the park. The flag means sea turtles are nesting in the park. Report sea turtles on the beach immediately.

 
Kemp's ridley hatchlings crawl on the beach towards the ocean while in the background people stand watching.
Kemp's ridley hatchlings being released during a public release.

NPS Photo.

Sea Turtle Hatchling Releases

Species: Kemp’s ridley
When: May - August

Sea turtle nests left on the beach often have a low hatch rate and sea turtle numbers are too low to afford any losses at this time. So, all nests found are moved to protected areas and monitored until they hatch, which can be anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks later.

Within a few hours of hatching, newly hatched turtles (hatchlings) are released into the wild. When possible, the public is invited to come and watch these tiny hatchlings make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

These public hatchling releases begin in late May or early June and continue through July or early August, depending on when nests are laid. Like with a human pregnancy, we cannot predict exactly when the sea turtle eggs will hatch, but we can give them an estimated "due date", a range of days during which we think the eggs will probably hatch based on a combination of factors. We post these projected hatch dates on our Current Nesting Season page each year. But in the end, it is all up to the babies to decide when they are ready!

Once a nest begins to hatch, it can take 1-4 days for the hatchlings to emerge from their eggs and be ready for release. They have a special, limited supply of energy to help them come out of the nest, crawl down the beach, swim through the rough surf, and make their way out to the open ocean to find a safe place to hide. If the hatchlings from the nest begin to frenzy, becoming very active and burning off that limited energy supply, they must be released immediately (often in the middle of the night) to help ensure they will survive. In that case no public release will occur. If the hatchlings remain calm and inactive, we can wait until sunrise to release them so that the public can watch. But the needs of the hatchlings are our first priority.

Because of the unpredictable hatching process, we are much more likely to be able to hold a public hatchling release during periods when several nests are due to hatch at the same time. If you are planning a visit from out of town to see a hatchling release, you can increase your chances of seeing one by planning to be in the area over a period of several days and when several nests are due to hatch at the same time. Go to our Hatchling Release page for more tips and information about seeing a hatchling release.

Most public releases take place on Malaquite Beach in front of the visitor center at 6:45 a.m. To find out when the next public hatchling release will occur, call our Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163 anytime between May and August of each year. It has a recording that provides the most current information about the next possible public hatchling release. You can also check our Sea Turtle Program Facebook Page or Park Facebook page for updates.

 
NPS staff member and a Texas State Aquarium Staff member, standing in front of a crowd, each hold a rehabilitated green sea turtle ready to be released back into the ocean.
Two cold stunned green sea turtles, rehabilitated at the Texas State Aquarium, are ready to be released.

NPS Photo.

Cold Stunned Sea Turtles

Species: Green
When: November - February

Like all reptiles, sea turtles are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and strongly affected by ambient temperatures. If temperatures fall gradually, they can move to deeper water where it is warmer. But if temperatures become too cold too fast, especially in the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre, sea turtles can become cold stunned. If this happens, they are unable to swim or move. Helpless, they float on the surface or wash onto shore and can die of exposure or predation.

Sea turtle populations are too low to afford such losses at this time. Each winter, if severe cold weather events occur in the area, park staff members work with many partners and volunteers to search for and rescue cold stunned sea turtles. These helpless animals are brought out of the cold, cared for at designated, permitted rehabilitation facilities in the area, and then released back into the wild once they have recovered and the water has returned to a safe temperature. When possible, the public is invited to come and watch these juvenile sea turtles get released into the Gulf of Mexico. Such public releases occur when conditions allow and rescued turtles are deemed ready for release. They may or may not occur in any given year. The best way to find out if a public release of cold stunned sea turtles will occur is to check our Sea Turtle Program Facebook Page or Park Facebook page.

If you find a cold stunned sea turtle, please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE5.

When you call:

  • Report the turtle's location, size, proximity to the surf, and condition (alive or dead).

  • Mark the location.

  • If the turtle is alive, stay at the site until an official arrives if possible.

Your assistance is greatly appreciated and could make all the difference in protecting these threatened and endangered turtles.

 
A juvenile green sea turtle swims around jetty rocks with its head out of the water.
A juvenile green sea turtle swims along the rocks at the Mansfield Channel.

NPS Photo.

Sea Turtles Swimming in the Water

Species: Green, Kemp’s ridley
When: Year-round

Anglers and beachgoers wading in the surf can sometimes find themselves sharing the water with a sea turtle! This amazing experience is rare but can occur, especially on days when the water is very calm and clear. Most often the turtles seen are young green sea turtles swimming by. During the summer it could even be an adult female Kemp's ridley, waiting for the right conditions to come ashore and nest.

Juvenile (young) green sea turtles live in the waters around Padre Island year-round, finding the food they need along the jetties and in the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre. You can potentially see them at any time of year. Look for these sea turtles feeding and coming up for air along area jetties such as in Packery Channel on North Padre Island north of the park, or in Mansfield Channel at the southern end of the park.

If you see a sea turtle swimming out in the water, just enjoy the thrill of seeing such a rare and magnificent animal in the wild! You do not need to report sea turtles actively swimming out in the water.

 
A live stranded loggerhead sea turtle laying on the beach sand entangled in a green fishing net.
A live stranded loggerhead entangled in a net.

NPS Photo.

Stranded Sea Turtles

Species: Green, Kemp’s ridley, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback,
When: Year-round

Sometimes sea turtles strand on the beach due to illness or injury. A stranded sea turtle is one that is located washed ashore or floating, alive or dead. If it is alive, it is generally in a weakened condition and may be sick or injured. Live turtles are taken to rehabilitation facilities where they receive care, and usually many of them survive and are ultimately released. Dead turtles are often salvaged for necropsy and study.

Sea turtles can strand any time of the year. They may be sick or injured due to natural causes (like predator attacks) or have human induced injuries (boat strikes or entanglement in fishing gear.) In the winter when severe cold fronts move through the area, sea turtles can become hypothermic, an event called a cold stun. The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, with the help of many volunteers, looks for, rescues, and documents cold stunned sea turtles.

Stranded sea turtles can be found in year-round in bays, passes, the Gulf of Mexico, or along the shoreline.

If you find a stranded sea turtle, please report it by flagging down a passing turtle patroller (April through mid-July), law enforcement officer, or call 1-866-TURTLE5.

When you call:

  • Report the turtle's location, size, proximity to the surf, and condition (alive or dead).

  • Mark the location.

  • If the turtle is alive, stay at the site until an official arrives if possible.


If you happen to catch a sea turtle on a fishing line, please call as well. Even if the turtle is alive and looks fine, they can develop later complications that can result in their death. You will NOT be in trouble for catching these sea turtles; we only want to ensure that they receive treatment and can later be released.

Your assistance is greatly appreciated and could make all the difference in protecting these threatened and endangered turtles.

 

Last updated: August 14, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 181300
Corpus Christi, TX 78480

Phone:

(361) 949-8068
This is the primary phone number for the Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore.

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