Padre Island
Administrative History
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Victor Cahalane visited Padre Island in February 1947 to investigate the island's potential as a unit in the national park system. As chief biologist for the National Park Service, Cahalane's endorsement carried significant weight in management's decision-making. [1] Over the course of the February visit, he roamed freely through the dunes and tidal flats, capturing the diversity of natural resources on Padre Island with his camera and in his notes. Cahalane's report, issued almost a month after the visit, for all practical purposes serves as the first scientific evaluation of Padre Island conducted by the National Park Service. Although brief, the biologist focused on the presence of "ecological associations" and animal life and how Padre Island compared to two other seashores managed by the Park Service:

In its beach fauna, Padre Island surpasses Santa Rosa Island and Cape Hatteras both in variety of species and number of individuals. It is exceptionally rich also in fish life, and is one of the finest sport fishing areas in the United States. Due to the lack of variety of habitats, its mammal life is not as varied as that of the Hatteras banks. The variety of birds in winter is considerably greater than that of the Hatteras region. Our observations indicate, however, that the number of waterbirds at this season is not nearly as large. To anyone who has seen the magnificent flights of ducks, geese and swans of Pimlice and Currituck Sounds, the bird spectacle at Padre Island is disappointing. [2]

Unfortunately, Victor Cahalane's tour of Padre Island was too brief and limited largely to the beach area north of Big Shell beach. [3] At the same time, Park Service personnel had very little experience with the dynamics of coastal barrier islands and tended to see one barrier island as identical to the next. This misunderstanding gradually became clear as scientists began to study and report on the complex natural systems and resources of Padre Island.

Natural Resources of Padre Island National Seashore

As a barrier island Padre Island National Seashore is a dynamic system that was formed and is continually being reshaped by the action of wind, currents, and waves. The seashore's landscape changes from broad sandy beaches to ridges of fore-island dunes and then to grassy flats separated by smaller dunes, ephemeral ponds, and wetlands. The western portion of the seashore is defined by back-island dunes and wind tidal flats that merge with the waters of the Laguna Madre.

Padre Island National Seashore encompasses thousands of acres of pristine wetlands that are critically important habitat for numerous flora and fauna species. A rich variety of wetlands, including estuarine emergent wetlands, freshwater ponds, wind tidal algae flats, the Laguna Madre intertidal zone, lagoonal sea grass beds, and marshes comprise approximately 80-90 percent of the area behind the gulf dune line to the Laguna Madre. Wildlife experts estimate that 60-65 percent of all Piping plovers winter in South Texas and report that both Wilson's plover and Snowy plovers breed and nest in the park. The park is also home to 325 pairs of Reddish egrets. Migratory wildlife observed in the park include the sandhill crane, snow geese, Canada geese, and various species of duck.

A number of animals found at the National Seashore are listed by the Federal government as threatened or endangered species: American peregrine falcons (E); Arctic peregrine falcon (T); Eastern brown pelican (E); Piping plover (E); White-tailed hawk (T); Least tern (E); green sea turtle (T), Kemp's ridley sea turtle (E), Loggerhead sea turtle (T), Leatherback sea turtle (E), and the Hawksbill sea turtle (T). The Reddish egret (C2), Long-billed curlew (C2), White-faced ibis (C2), Snowy plover (C2), and the Osprey are protected species recognized by the State of Texas that either nest or reside at the seashore. In addition, the Ferruginous hawk (C2) and Cerulean warbler (C2) are yearly migrants through the park.

The southern portion of the park is unique in that it is the migration route "staging area" for peregrine falcons. This particular area (noted by mile markers 30-68) in the National Seashore is the most important peregrine falcon habitat on the Gulf Coast and is considered as critical habitat by the Peregrine Fund. In 1993, park officials counted more than 2,000 peregrine falcons utilizing this area during their fall migration. Padre Island is the only known locality in the Western Hemisphere where peregrine falcons also can be found in concentrations during their spring migration.

Padre Island
Figure 24. Aerial View of Padre Island, 1937. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives.

The park serves as an important rookery area for thousands of colonial waterbirds and is an important staging area for 140 neotropical bird species as well. As growth and development continue in the coastal bend area of South Texas, the park becomes increasingly more significant as important habitat area for colonial nesting waterbirds, neotropical migrants, and threatened or endangered bird species. In addition, the southernmost portion of the park provides a nesting area for Kemp's ridley, green, and Loggerhead sea turtles.

The fine sandy sediment of the island supports coastal grassland or prairie environment which was severely degraded prior to acquisition of the park. Natural environmental perturbations such as hurricanes, droughts, fire, flooding, and high salinity were accentuated by human impacts of cattle grazing, burning, and military activities. The combined effect reduced large areas of the island to little more than blowing sand. Since the central portion of the island was taken over by the National Park Service, the park area vegetation has significantly recovered. Natural plant succession has resulted in 95 percent vegetation recovery in 1996 from approximately 10-20 percent vegetation cover in 1972. [4]

The Laguna Madre is noted as one of the few hyper saline bodies of water in the country with salinity levels typically higher than the Gulf of Mexico waters. This salinity content is attributed to high evaporation and low freshwater infusion into the Laguna due to limited runoff and scarcity of freshwater systems emptying into it. The Laguna Madre is one of the most productive estuarine systems in the United States and as such is critical to the park's resource management.

Aquatic and Waterfowl Resources Management Plan, 1969 - 1979

In the late 1960s Park Service officials initiated the first natural resource's management plan. By 1969 Superintendent Ernest Borgman released the approved 10-year plan to provide guidelines for management and identify potential problems with the resources in the National Seashore and the adjacent Laguna Madre. The plan proposed management practices for fisheries, waterfowl, and hunting. [5]

Park Service scientists first suggested limiting channel dredging, spoil deposition, and "similar habitat modification." Similarly, when mineral extraction occurred on the island, the scientists encouraged the removal of all by-products. Although public access to the western boundary of the park deserved consideration, any type of access might benefit fishing but jeopardize the waterfowl populations. Finally, Park Service officials stated that studies determine who used trotlines within the National Seashore and whether netting fish on the beach was compatible with other forms of recreation. [6]

The scientists then recommended that Padre Island proper be closed to all hunting and that the Laguna Madre be open only for waterfowl hunting with the exception that no permanent blinds be permitted. They continued recommending closing North and South Bird Island, and conducting future studies. For added protection of North and South Bird Islands, the researchers recommended that the Park Service stay in close contact with the Audubon Society. They then concluded with the statement that all other hunting permits and regulations remain intact unless there became a reason to discontinue them. [7]

The most direct comments in the report came under the subtitle, "Extenuating Environmental Factors." In spite of all the "man-oriented influences" taking place within the island, these were insignificant compared to the effect that the blowing sands of the island now filling the Laguna Madre would have on aquatic life. The researchers acknowledged that there may be no way to stop the movement of the island into the lagoon, but that a dune stabilization and planting program could greatly reduce the movement. [8] Shortly after the publication of this report, National Seashore employees took appropriate steps to implement the Aquatic and Waterfowl Resources Management Plan, especially in management of the dunes.

Although revised a number of times between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s, the Resource Management Plan (RMP) describes, documents, and prioritizes resource management issues, problems, and actions required to preserve and protect natural resources in the National Seashore. The planning document is dynamic, being revised as information and expertise is advanced, and is used in the development and implementation of short- and long-term management strategies. Most resource management and administrative activities conducted in the park are accounted for in the RMP. Park officials use the RMP as a programmatic document to track achievements and when needed to conduct in depth management studies or alternatives by developing a specific action plan. Completed action plans become addenda to the RMP. The typical action plan includes legislative mandates, management objectives, summaries of the condition or "status" of each resource "type," a list of needs or actions, and funding needs and potential sources. The RMP is today a comprehensive document far more sophisticated than those prepared during the early years of the National Seashore.

Figure 25. Measuring Birds. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives [P2061].

Dune Migration and Stabilization Studies

Shortly after establishing the National Seashore, the staff turned its attention to the study of Padre's dunes. Decades of cattle grazing and human degradation had left some of the dunes devoid of vegetation. Derrick Hambly, the second park naturalist, performed elementary studies of sand movement during the late 1960s. Hambly selected six study sites for monitoring the speed of active dune migration and the rate of the enlarging island into the Laguna Madre. He cited problems during road construction in Fiscal Year 1968 when sand dunes sometime inundated routes before construction. Hambly projected that future Park Service development involve the construction of small boat channels from the Intracoastal Waterway to the island and the sand movement in general be a budgetary factor for Park managers. [9]

Shortly after Hambly's work, the Park Service employed B.E. Dahl, a geologist from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Dahl arranged experimental foredunes in two locations within the park. From 1969 to 1974, he monitored the tenacity of several plant species, including exotic and indigenous plants, and planting techniques. Dahl concluded that two grasses, sea oats and bitter panicum, both natives, possessed the ideal traits for reestablishing foredunes. He added that this type of intervention could speed up the restoration process to only a few years rather than 10 to 20 years under natural circumstances. [10]

Several other studies on the foredunes followed Dahl's work. These focused on the foredune ecosystem highlighting vegetational compositions, faunal populations, geomorphological profiles, and human-related impacts and mitigation. The team of Baccus and Horton in 1979 produced the most comprehensive of these studies. Their work discussed in detail the environmental condition of foredunes depicted by the presence of various species of vegetation. [11]

Island Ecosystems

In addition to the foredune ecosystem, scientists studied several other systems within the park. Teerling (1970), Hill and Hunter (1973), Gundlack, et al. (1980), and Tunnell (1980), all investigated the beach ecosystem. Their works provide a reasonable baseline on the infaunal populations within the tidal zones. Each scientist closely evaluated the response of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and oil spills. [12]

The vegetated deflation plain received less attention. One study, Baccus and Horton in 1979, presented an overview of vegetation and geomorphology but did not cover impacts of fauna. Horizon Environmental Services, Inc., addressed native vegetation in 1989 in part to document the historical presence of the oak mottes on Padre Island. [13] In 1978 Hanna studied the island's freshwater ponds. He focused on five ponds near the Gulf Ranger Station, cataloguing selected invertebrates and completing a chemical analysis of the water. In 1990 Dr. Stanley Sissom of Southwest Texas State University completed a baseline study of three fresh water ponds and recommended one to be used with a nature trail. [14] Two other scientists, Abbott and Pulich, completed a study of the back-island sand and mud flats in 1986. Abbott specifically addressed vehicular impacts on the soils and vegetation while Pulich examined productivity in the ecosystem. [15]

Marine Debris Survey

Marine debris is one of the most serious natural resource issues for Padre Island National Seashore. At certain times of the year, the shoreline of the National Seashore is inundated by as much as one ton of debris per linear mile. Approximately 90 percent of the marine debris items found are made of plastics. Although similar in many ways to other National Seashores, Padre Island is atypical because convergent currents off the seashore's coastline deposit large quantities of garbage onto its shoreline from accumulations of almost any debris item discarded into the Gulf of Mexico. The presence of marine debris leads to such management problems as beach aesthetics and impacts to marine mammals, birds, and reptiles from entanglement or ingestion of debris. Toxic chemicals and medical waste also wash ashore and pose a safety hazard to the visiting public.

In 1987, the United States joined 39 other nations in ratifying Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as MARPOL. This treaty bans the dumping of plastics by vessels at sea and also limits the dumping of other vessel generated garbage to specific distances from shore. In special designated areas, however, including the Gulf of Mexico, the treaty expressly prohibits the discharge of any vessel generated garbage. In spite of the treaty, large amounts of plastics and other debris continue to wash onto the shoreline of Padre Island.

collecting marine debris
Figure 26. Collecting Marine Debris. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives.

John Miller, Chief, Resources Management Division, initiated and completed seven years (1989-1996) of intensive marine debris research to determine the extent of marine debris found in the park. From 1989 to 1993, Padre Island participated as one of ten National Seashore parks in the National Park Marine Debris Monitoring Program. The objective of the effort was to . . . "provide a quantitative assessment of the abundance, composition, and accumulation of marine debris on national park beaches." [16]

By 1996, marine debris research consisted of 48 months of quarterly data from six 50 by 100 meter quarterly transects, 18 months of daily (five days per week) data from four 50 by 100 meter transects, three months of daily (five days per week) data from a transect covering eight miles of shoreline and 16 months of daily (seven days per week) data from a transect covering 16 miles of shoreline. Based on findings from each of the previous studies, park scientists developed methods to identify and assess the magnitude of marine debris point source polluters in the Gulf of Mexico and involved a daily (seven days per week) survey of 16 miles of shoreline. Based on information collected from March 1994 through February 1995, John Miller and associated researchers compiled the multi agency funded research effort into the Marine Debris Point Source Investigation 1994-1995. [17] They performed descriptive statistical tests on all survey data and correlated monthly shrimping effort data with monthly totals of each shrimping item using data provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The researchers performed a Spearman Rank Order Correlation to detect an association between the total number of shrimping debris items and the effort expended by commercial shrimping vessels in a specific area of the Gulf of Mexico.

The marine debris study conducted from March 1, 1994 to February 28, 1995, yielded a total of 40,580 debris items along the 16-mile transect at Padre Island National Seashore. Total items associated with the commercial shrimping industry numbered 26,549 (65 percent of the total). Thirteen items associated with the offshore oil and gas industry numbered 5,298 (13 percent of the total) and 14 items from an unknown source totaled 8,733 (22 percent of the total). [18]

Results from the marine debris research indicate that point-source violators can be identified and prove that the shrimping industry is directly responsible (from statistical analysis) for 30 percent of garbage that washes onto Padre Island beaches. The shrimping industry may also contribute an additional 35 percent. Other results show that the offshore oil and gas industry is suspected of contributing 13 percent of the garbage. Taken together this means that more than 70 percent of most items that wash ashore are contributed by identifiable point sources. [19]

Miller and his staff received national recognition from many media sources for the 1994-1995 Marine Debris Point Source Investigation, which is currently being considered as a model for other planned marine debris research efforts. From March 1995 to March 1996, the research team initiated a second year of marine debris research as a continuation of the 1994-1995 Marine Debris Point Source Investigation. The resource management staff is currently in the process of analyzing and comparing the two sets of data for a final report in September 1996.

Laguna Madre Environment

The largest number of researchers focused on the Laguna Madre. [20] The Laguna Madre deserved special attention over the years from research projects. As a distinct body of water, the lagoon is rich in natural resources. Its shallow, hyper saline water contains significant grasses useful to the reproduction of fish, crab, and shrimp. These areas are now recognized as important wetlands protected under Federal law.

The Laguna Madre also hosts North and South Bird Island and a handful of spoil islands. These offer special sanctuaries for hundreds of birds but especially the nesting sites for the White Pelican. More than 300 other species of birds occupy the Laguna Madre and its surrounding area. Many of these take refuge here only during migration. Thus, in the mid-1970s, Chief Naturalist Robert Whistler initiated an annual bird count in conjunction with the Audubon Society. This is known as the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The county generally occurs in January and typically identified more than 130 species, some of them endangered. [21] The Park Service staff discontinued the count on Padre Island in 1990.

Colonial Waterbird Survey

Twenty-one species of Colonial waterbirds inhabit North and South Bird Islands and the 17 other islands within the Laguna Madre. The spoil banks are in different stages of vegetative development, but are prime habitats for nesting colonial birds. When the Brown Pelican almost disappeared from the Texas coast in the mid-1960s, Gene Blacklock, then of the Welder Wildlife Foundation, and Dr. Henry Hildebrand became interested in the species. These two men implemented the first "Texas Fish-Eating Bird Survey" along the central Texas coast in 1967. The following year the men expanded the survey to the entire coast and in 1969 they added East Texas. [22]

The Colonial Waterbird Survey provides essential data on species composition, population trends, preferred nesting sites, and changes in nesting sites. During the month of May each year, Donna Shaver, Padre Island Research Biologist, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducts the survey on all park islands. During the mid 1990s, the researchers counted approximately 10,000 nesting birds annually. [23]

In 1991, Park Service personnel initiated several meetings with representatives of universities and agencies to develop recommendations on management strategies for the rookery islands within park boundaries. The recommendations included modifying nesting habitats to increase nesting numbers. Prior to the 1992 season, park staff members began several projects to improve the nesting habitat as directed such as increasing the number of signs on the islands restricting landing of visitors and monitoring and removing predators. [24]

White Pelicans

The best known of the colonial water birds is the White Pelican (Pelicanus erythrorhynchos). In 1981 Park Service officials became concerned as the population tried to nest two times before being successful on the third attempt. The unsuccessful nesting efforts altered the behavior of the adult pelicans and caused the death of large numbers of nestlings and juveniles. After investigation and research, Park scientists attributed the problems to the infestation of the chewing louse on the juveniles. [25]

As Park scientists began to study the problem in 1981, they noted a gradual decline in the White Pelican population from 1967 to 1980, from 450 to 50 nesting pairs. The census data gathered in 1978 also showed only two surviving young. After examining similar census data from 1976 to 1980, the scientists noted that fewer and fewer pelicans nested successfully on South Bird Island and many moved to island No. 111 of the spoil bank islands. [26]

The 1981 nesting season proved the most troubled. Park officials observed in early March that adults constructed nest sites on the west end of South Bird Island and on the southwest side of island No. 111. Within four weeks, the adults abandoned these sites and relocated to begin another attempt at nesting. This second attempt proved unsuccessful. When the park staff examined the second nesting site, they found the hatched chicks carried excessively high ectoparasite loads. The presence of parasites caused extreme weakness in the chicks. Shortly afterwards, the adult pelicans abandoned the second site and chose a third on another spoil island. The pelicans succeeded in the final attempt at nesting. Park scientists concluded that the heavy infestation of ectoparasites led to the poor success at nesting. [27]

Two years after detection of the ectoparasites, the National Seashore contracted with Dr. Brian Chapman of Corpus Christi State University for a study of the ectoparasite species and its effects on young chicks. Chapman reported, in a preliminary analysis in 1986, that a hard freeze in December 1983 killed the ectoparasites living in the soils of the islands. [28] In subsequent years, National Seashore biologists reported increased populations of the White Pelican and successful nesting on the Bird Islands and spoil islands.

Vegetation Research/Restoration Projects

Early travelers and visitors to Padre Island reported on the vegetation and wildlife of the island in journals. Though few resemble modern scientific descriptive or quantitative studies, the reports provide a 300-year perspective and detail the vegetation prior to extensive disturbances by European settlement and ranching activities. Aerial photographs of Padre Island taken in 1937, mark the beginning of a new dimension in large-scale, quantitative analysis of vegetation change. A series of studies published in the mid to late 1970s by the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin document a 50-year sequence of changes in vegetation lines and vegetative cover based on aerial photograph interpretations. [29] In 1975, Dr. Lynn Drawe of the Welder Wildlife Foundation initiated a long-term vegetation inventory project on 30 transects surveyed every five years. In 1993, Drawe resurveyed the transects and provided the park with comprehensive data on plant communities and species diversity, inclusive of all habitat types found within the park. Dr. Drawe's data suggests that natural succession has resulted in an increase in the number of vegetation species from 60 to 140 and an increase in vegetation cover to approximately 96 percent for the northern portion of the National Seashore. [30]

In 1992, the staff of the Division of Resources Management began a long-term project to assist in the restoration of native species. All known oak mottes located within the park are visited at least once a year to determine their condition and reproductive status. Acorns are collected, transported to the park's greenhouse, grown for one year, then transplanted. Additionally, Spanish daggers have been planted in areas of the park that were historically known to have had this particular plant species. [31]

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Project

In 1978 Padre Island National Seashore initiated one of its most ambitious natural resource programs, the Kemp's ridley turtle project. In 1968 the International Union for Conservation (ICUN) declared the Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Leplidochelys kempii) the most endangered sea turtle species. Two years later the Federal government formally protected the turtle as an endangered species. In response, Robert Whistler, chief naturalist, and Dr. Henry Hildebrand, professor of marine biology at then Corpus Christi State University, combined efforts to propose the turtle project in 1974. Seeking support and possible funding from the National Park Service or other Federal entities, Whistler and Hildebrand outlined a 10-year project to establish a secondary breeding colony of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle on Padre Island. Whistler and Superintendent Jack Turney contacted the regional office on the project and forwarded a copy of a proposal on the Kemp's ridley turtles prepared by Dr. John R. Hendrickson of the University of Arizona. In a response dated April 1974, Roland Wauer, chief scientist from the Southwest Region, expressed reservations. He cited a project already underway in Florida to reintroduce the green sea turtle that showed little promise. After six years, Dr. Peter Pritchard, in charge of the project, reported that no turtle hatchlings returned to their point of release. Although Wauer was pessimistic, he recommended that the park superintendent and chief naturalist include the project in its Resource Management Plan but not expect any funding from the National Park Service. [32] At roughly the same time, Dr. Hendrickson submitted his proposal to the United States Department of the Interior Office of Endangered Species to conduct a three-year project with a projected cost of $96,000. [33] The Hendrickson proposal apparently failed to be funded by the Office of Rare and Endangered Species or National Park Service. In spite of the earlier hesitation, Dr. Hildebrand and Whistler convinced the park superintendent to approve a 10-year project in cooperation with the Instituto Nacional de Pesca in Mexico, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Galveston.

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, Kemp's ridley turtles also received increasing attention from Mexican officials concerned about their dwindling numbers. This attention led the Mexican government to establish a scientific headquarters at Rancho Nuevo in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas under the direction of Dr. Rene Marquez Milan. Playa de Rancho Nuevo offered the principal nesting area for the Kemp's ridley turtles along a 16-mile stretch of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. [34] Mexican scientists recorded some 40,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtles nesting, called arribadas, in a single day during the 1940s. Senor Herrara, a wealthy Mexican citizen, took a special interest in the sea turtles and documented on film one of these spectacular nesting periods in spring 1947. [35] Despite these efforts by both the United States and Mexico, the future of the Kemp's ridley turtles seemed dim in the late 1970s.

imprinting young turtles
Figure 27. Imprinting Young Turtles. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives.

In 1978 the National Seashore began participation in the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Restoration and Enhancement Program. Each summer from 1978 to 1988, Mexican scientists, working with biologists employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, shipped approximately 2,000 eggs to Padre Island National Seashore from Rancho Nuevo in Styrofoam boxes containing Padre Island sand. Chief Naturalist Robert Whistler and volunteers constructed a special hatchery at the rear of the Gulf Ranger Station to house the turtle eggs. In 1979 Whistler became responsible for the educational programs of the program while the Environmental Services Division, later renamed Resources Management Division, oversaw the incubation and research efforts. Several years later Chief of Environmental Services Robert King expanded the incubation facility and laboratory. King, Whistler, and other members of the National Seashore staff observed the eggs until they hatched. [36] Staff and volunteers carried and released them onto the sandy beach, usually allowing a short swim into the shallow surf. This "imprinting" proved to be a critical experience for the youngsters. Participants then collected the turtles in nets and shipped them to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Laboratory in Galveston for nine to ten months of "head starting." The Fisheries Service staff tagged adolescent turtles for identification and returned them to South Texas for release into the Gulf of Mexico. Beginning in 1982 each turtle also received a "living tag," where a small plug from the lighter bottom shell was implanted into the darker upper shell. In 1986 Biological Technician Donna Shaver assumed responsibility for sea turtle projects conducted at Padre Island. Shaver had worked with the project since 1980 and had completed several studies regarding the biology of sea turtles at Padre Island National Seashore and in Texas. During the 11 incubation seasons from 1978 to 1988, approximately 22,507 eggs reached Padre Island, 17,358 or 77.1 percent hatched, 15,875 were transferred to Galveston for head-starting, and approximately 12,000 were released into the Gulf. [37]

Investigators confirmed fewer than one Kemp's ridley nest per year between 1980 and 1994, but beginning in 1995, they detected an increasing number of Kemp's ridley nests along the Texas coast. In 1995, reports indicated four confirmed nests and, in 1996, six nests. Because most of the turtles from the earliest years probably no longer possessed identification markings, park scientists could not determine whether the nest sites were from wild or head-started turtles. In May 1996, however, Shaver and others documented the first return of a head-started sea turtle within Padre Island National Seashore. The turtle was from the 1987 class and laid 83 eggs. [38]

The Kemp's ridley program served a conservation purpose as well as allowed for the collection of biological data previously not available. Park biologist Donna Shaver studied the incubation effort to determine the pivotal temperature at which a 50:50 sex ratio is produced and expand knowledge of the embryological states of development for the Kemp's ridley. Shaver used this data to improve the incubation program at the National Seashore to its current 90 percent hatch success rate and to assist scientists at Rancho Nuevo in improving their incubation program. [39]

Although the program officially ended in 1988, Padre Island biologists and rangers continue to monitor the beaches during the late spring and summer months. In 1986, under the guidance of Donna Shaver, the National Seashore staff and volunteers began patrols of the beach area for nesting turtles. Patrol coverage varied between 1986 and 1995, but encompasses the entire 68-mile National Seashore. From 1994 to 1996, the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and two donations from Canon USA, through the National Parks Foundation, funded the patrols. [40] In addition, an aggressive educational campaign alerts visitors in the park to the possibility of sea turtles and their endangered status. Posted signs, published handouts, ranger interpretation and educational programs, and a videotape and display at the visitor center offer information of the Kemp ridley's. Park biologists rely on visitor reports to assist in documenting possible nests. [41]

In July 1992, the National Park Service approved the Padre Island National Seashore Sea Turtle Management Plan. This plan details threats to nesting sea turtles, nests, and hatchlings, identifies measures to protect them, and outlines recommendations for dealing with eggs and hatchlings found in nests on local beaches. In 1993, John Miller, Chief of Resources Management Division, expanded the Kemp's ridley program to include rehabilitation of injured Kemp's ridley hatchlings. To support Miller's effort, the Exxon Corporation donated $35,000 to match National Park Service funds for the construction of a Hatchling Rehabilitation Facility. The facility is capable of holding 45 injured hatchlings for three to four weeks or until they are fully recovered from their injuries. Rehabilitated hatchlings are released back into the Gulf of Mexico. [42]

The Kemp's ridley sea turtle project received more media attention than any other initiated by Padre Island. It remains popular with visitors and continues to attract a considerable number of volunteers. This project may be considered one of the park administration's most successful natural resource programs. The Kemp's ridley project may be a model example of incorporating and educating the public as part of the National Park Service's mission.

Inshore Sea Turtle Research

Sea turtles, once abundant among the inshore waters of the Laguna Madre and Mansfield Channel, appeared in few numbers by the latter part of the century. Park biologists knew little about the habitat and characteristics of these turtles. In 1989, Donna Shaver, Research Biologist, started a long-term monitoring program study of sea turtles at the Mansfield Channel to ensure their adequate protection. She gathered information on species composition, seasonality, residency, growth rates, sex ratios, food habits, and tag retention times, addressing several recovery task priority items listed in the Kemp's ridley and green sea turtle recovery plans. Each turtle that is caught is identified to species, tagged, weighed, measured, and photographed. When possible, blood is drawn to determine a gender and breeding colony of origin. Lavage and fecal samples are taken to determine food habits. [43]

From June 1989 through March 1996, park officials captured 139 green and two Hawksbill turtles during monitoring and netting at the Mansfield Channel. Nearly half of the green turtles were recaptured with four months being the average interval from first to last capture. Capture data indicate that the population at the Mansfield Channel has declined since the inception of the study. Park scientists identified several possible factors causing the apparent decline including freezing, dredging, increased visitation, spread of sea urchins and exotic mussels, and natural fluctuations. None of these, however, is proven. Scientists observed and photographed a pair of mating Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the Mansfield Channel in June 1991. Although no sea turtle nests were found along the Texas coast subsequent to the mating, the observation confirmed the presence of Kemp's ridley sea turtles mating in Texas waters and supports the possibility that this species could be encountered in the area. The survey of sea turtles in park inshore waters addresses several recovery task priority items listed in the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Plan and Green Sea Turtle Recovery Plan. [44]

nesting sea turtles
Figure 28. Nesting Sea Turtle. Photo courtesy PAIS Archives [P1124].

Peregrine Falcon Research

Beginning in the late 1940s, the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus, subspecies f.p. anatum and f.p. tundrius) population in the United States began to decline. The most frequently mentioned cause was the introduction of pesticides (DDT) into agricultural practices both in the United States and Mexico. Pesticide residues found in falcon eggs and tissue caused the birds to lay fragile, thin-shelled eggs that often broke during incubation. [45] By the early 1970s, the peregrine falcon population dropped so drastically that Federal protection as an endangered species followed, along with an amended US-Mexico Migratory Bird Treaty in March 1972. [46] This designation spawned a national effort to study, report, and protect the peregrine falcon. The National Park Service took an early leadership role by fostering environments for the falcons in the parks.

Padre Island National Seashore became one of the first parks to address the peregrine falcon issue, because the island is a "staging area" for migrant peregrines in the central flyway during the spring and fall months. The spring months of April and May are the most notable periods of migration, making Padre Island the only known area of concentrated spring migrating peregrines in the Western Hemisphere. [47] The falcons select wide tidal flats and beach dunes to feed on birds unprotected by vegetation, usually water birds and mourning doves. Most of the migrating falcons stop in the 40-mile stretch around Mansfield Channel, roughly 30 miles into the southern end of the National Seashore. [48]

The population of peregrine falcons increased during annual counts since 1978 with more than 2,000 falcons being counted during the spring migration of 1994. Peregrine falcon researchers utilized the park from 1978 to 1994, but in 1994, park officials banned the researchers. After analyzing satellite imagery, it became apparent that the researchers had inadvertently destroyed large sections of wind-tidal flat and algal mats by using all-terrain vehicles. Because of the extent of damage, several scientists believe that it may take decades to repair the tidal flats that are sensitive foraging habitat for other species of avifauna. [49]

Oil and Gas Exploration and Development

Oil and gas exploration and development began on Padre Island well before its designation as a National Seashore. In the enabling legislation for the park, property owners retained all mineral rights with the right to occupy and use as much surface as reasonable for the removal of the minerals. In 1978, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior developed and distributed regulations in Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights (36 CFR 9B). Under these regulations, the owner of mineral rights submits a "Plan of Operations" for approval, which serves as the operator's access permit, and proceeds with mitigation measures to minimize the environmental effects. [50]

During the 1970s, fewer than ten individual companies operated within the National Seashore. Park officials considered this number to have a negligible environmental impact. In the early 1980s, however, the number of operations increased by ten in one year. This increase continued until the end of the decade. [51]

The National Seashore staff developed a number of restrictions for mineral extraction within the park and the park's viewshed. Outlined in an agreement with the General Land Office, the park prohibits any exploration apparatus within two miles of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline in the area of Padre Island National Seashore to protect the aesthetic and recreational values of the public beaches. Drilling is allowed within the area from two miles to three miles from shore during the tourist off-season (September 16th to March 14th), but drilling activity in this strip must commence before January 15th to insure adequate completion time before the March 14th deadline. Access to minerals in the two-mile zone along the Gulf beach may be achieved by directional drilling from upland sites on Padre Island, if authorized by the National Park Service, or from tracts held by the State of Texas beyond the two-mile limit. Max Hancock, Chief Ranger from 1974 to 1988, also negotiated restrictions to protect the Peregrine falcon during migration and limit exploration activities within three-quarters of a mile of the Malaquite Beach area. Officials placed other restrictions on reinstating native vegetation after extraction and taking measures to prevent fires. [52] In 1988, Kean Boucher, Petroleum Engineer with the Mining and Minerals Branch of the National Park Service in Washington, developed additional stipulations related to seismic exploration. [53]

By 1988 park staff reported that the low price of oil kept exploration at a standstill. [54] Two years later the staff listed nine active oil and gas wells, one salt water disposal well, two producing water wells, and 65 plugged and abandoned wells. Of the active wells, six corporations had owned and operated them since January 8, 1979. In addition, five pipeline companies operated more than 70 miles of pipeline within the park boundaries. [55] In 1989, because of the complex regulations related to managing oil and gas development, John Miller, Chief of the Resources Management Division, requested a full-time position to manage the park's oil and gas program. Paul Eubank of the Ranger Division transferred to the serve as the first oil and gas manager.

In March 1994, Dunn-McCampbell, et al, the mineral owners in the park, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the National Park Service and Butch Farabee, Superintendent, Padre Island National Seashore. Dunn-McCampbell charged that the regulations of the Park Service applied to prospective operators and thus prevented development of the privately owned minerals beneath the park. In addition, Dunn-McCampbell alleged that the State of Texas retained the right to regulate the minerals under Padre Island and that the Park Service regulations did not apply to their operators. If the district court ruled in favor of the Federal government, the plaintiffs indicated they would file a "takings" claim against the National Park Service for $750 million. In June 1995, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in favor of the Park Service and severed the "takings" claim from the judgement because of the lack of jurisdiction. Dunn-McCampbell appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 1995. [56]

In 1995, the Park Service approved "Plans of Operation" for exploratory drilling by ENSERCH, Inc., in Dallas, Texas, and Bright and Company, in San Antonio, Texas. These efforts resulted in dry holes. As of March 1996, American Exploration Company (Dunn-McCampbell A-4) and Amoco Production Company (South Sprint) operate producing gas wells in the park; Fina Oil and Chemical Company (State Tract 181-#1) operates one oil well. American Exploration Company is discussing plans to plug and abandon three wells in late 1996. [57]

In 1993, Padre Island staff began collecting baseline research data for the purpose of writing a Minerals Management Plan. With funding, from the Southwest Regional Office of the National Park Service, the plan would address all aspects of mineral development and compliance regulations. Donna O'Leary, Project Coordinator, is supervising the plan preparation in coordination with two other park units in Texas, Big Thicket National Preserve and Lake Meredith Recreation Area. When completed in 1997, the plan will provide one document to potential operators and thus facilitate future oil and gas development in Padre Island National Seashore. [58]

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Last Updated: 14-Jun-2005