By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
I’ve caught it. I’ve caught the bug. The symptoms are: excitement, a propensity to smile, and a fair amount of squee. Not to mention the grains of sand that are now embedded in the seams of my clothing and in the impossible to reach nooks and crannies of my car.
So what bug have I caught? Turtle fever. Kemp’s ridley turtle fever, to be exact. You can only catch it in Texas, and here on South Padre Island I’m not the only one who has it.
This week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend my first ever hatchling release. It took a couple of sleepless nights, but it finally happened on Wednesday morning. I got the text message from Sea Turtle Inc. announcing the first public release of the season on Monday, but made it to the beach just minutes too late. Then Monday evening’s Facebook update showed promise of a Tuesday morning release with hatchlings in five nests making their way to the surface. Alas, rainy weather kept the little guys in.
Determined not to miss the next one, I set my alarm early and eagerly awaited Wednesday morning. A couple of extra long days at work couldn’t hamper my enthusiasm. By the time my phone buzzed in the dimness just before dawn, I was already awake and getting ready to go.
It was a perfect day, too. The clouds which had lingered over the horizon earlier in the week had finally scuttled on, leaving the sun to shine liquid gold on the gentle surf at Beach Access 3. When I arrived at the beach a crowd had already gathered to watch as Sea Turtle Inc. staff and volunteers carefully set over 90 hatchlings on the still-cool sand just yards from where the waves lapped ashore.
Some of the turtles would get turned about and start heading back onto the beach, but Sea Turtle Inc. staff were there to gently nudge them back in the right direction. As they neared the water, the day’s calm waves would slip underneath them and lift them gently forward, with hardly a flipper wave to say goodbye. As the last tiny straggler made its way into the water, the crowd erupted into cheers. Several people even clapped. Everyone was smiling. Everyone, it seems, had caught the same fever.
I lingered about afterward, looking out onto the sun-kissed surf. My cameras hung at my side, their memory cards filled with images I’d been hoping to capture for years. I’m glad I finally got to experience it, and I can’t wait to do it again. Luckily, there should be several more opportunities this season.
For more information on Kemp’s ridley turtles be sure to visit us online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.
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