By PAMELA CODY
Special to the Parade
Turtle lovers from all over Texas came out to lend their support to Sea Turtle, Inc. last weekend, to help raise funds for the organization’s ongoing endeavors to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles and conserve all marine turtle species.
The fundraiser, dubbed “Tastes and Toddies with the Turtles” took place at Sea Turtle, Inc.’s sprawling facility located in the north end of South Padre Island. Turtle enthusiasts enjoyed a variety of food and beverage selections provided by local restaurants, along with both a silent and live auction. While listening to music provided by Jewel Marie and the Blitz, guests enjoyed sampling the cuisine as they sat at tables placed among the giant tanks housing the resident turtles at the center.
Auction items included numerous turtle themed artwork and jewelry, as well as goods and services from local businesses and restaurants.
Standing near the buffet tables, Jeff George, executive director of Sea Turtle, Inc, reflected on the history of the facility.
“I was thinking today, 27 years I’ve been involved with Sea Turtle, Inc. We are almost the biggest sea turtle center in the world. And it’s only possible because of three things: passionate employees, all of our volunteers and, most importantly, our community support. We’re just blown away by the number of people who come in from McAllen and Brownsville and all over. And all of these restaurants who donated their time and food, it just never ceases to amaze me how blessed we are with community support.”
George elaborated on what the evening’s fundraising efforts would be earmarked for, saying the proceeds would be used for the Sea Turtle, Inc.’s rehab center.
“It’s going to be remodeled. Our plan is to tear it down starting August 15, 2020, and build a brand new state-of-the-art clinic for our turtles. At that point, we will be the largest sea turtle center in the world,” George declared.
Starting as a volunteer at Sea Turtle, Inc in 1999, then serving as bookkeeper ever since, SPI resident Stephanie Wilson was on hand for the event, and shared her thoughts on the facility that she has supported for 20 years.
“Just to see the growth that has occurred, and what they do for the turtles, the environment, the area, it’s just amazing. One of the reasons I started volunteering here was because you couldn’t adopt them, so I didn’t have to worry about that, like volunteering with the Humane Society, I couldn’t take them home. You get so attached to them,” Wilson said, laughing.
When asked what she would like people to know about Sea Turtle, Inc., Wilson said “I think if they just come here and would see the work that they do—the hospital with all the rehab, the resident turtles for educational purposes—we’re trying to make it more and more like their natural habitat, so I think it’s great.”
Stacy and Craig Reed, visiting from Spring, Texas, were attending the fundraiser, and were enjoying the festivities. “We’ve been here before with our grandkids, they enjoyed it. This is a good cause, we definitely wanted to show up.”
Also enjoying the turtle benefit were Ray Ernst and Peggy Green-Ernst from Dallas, Texas. Peggy explained her reasons for attending.
“I’ve been wanting to join the Sea Turtle Center for a long time. I do believe in what the founders did many many years ago and the great success that they’ve had. And I wanted to be a part of that,” Peggy said.
Peggy went on to say “What they have done as far as expanding the number of turtles in the world, it’s trend-setting. It’s another wonderful thing to put South Padre Island on the map for other people outside of the U.S. as well.” Ray agreed, adding “It’s a fabulous facility, the second biggest attraction on the Island after the beach.”