By Liz Summer, I Start Wondering Columnist
To start a new post for I Start Wondering, I start by wandering… outside that is… in order to see the “what Is” and report back on what I find, fresh and new, here and now. This November morning found me at North Padre Island in Texas, walking along the Packery Channel Jetties looking for turtles.
A Man-Made Addition to Nature
These granite jetties are newcomers along the beach, having been constructed in 2005. The construction was controversial. Packery Channel cut a slice across Padre Island, directly connecting the delicate ecosystems of the Laguna Madre to the open Gulf of Mexico. Padre Island was formally the largest barrier Island in the world, but this separation of the two bodies of water wasn’t meant to last in the face of development pressure.
Progress has no patience. Construction required extensive dredging and maintenance. Cutting this channel and many smaller artificial boat channels has spurred a housing boom along the formally pristine and wild North Padre Island.
Life is resilient though, and comes back in sometimes surprising ways. The housing boom provided by the jetties is not just limited to humans. The hard granite rock is also a housing boom for many types of sea creatures and plants that otherwise would not be found in any great abundance along a sandy beach.
Most strikingly are sea turtles. Sea turtle sightings were quite rare at one time. Dedicated conservation activities, including setting up sea turtle hatcheries, have allowed sea turtle populations to rebound in the gulf.
On this morning, on a brilliantly sunny, windy and chilly Thanksgiving day, the jetties were quite busy with fisherman fishing, surfers surfing and dolphins porpoising in the waves. Despite all the human and cetacean activity, Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) were also abundant. Walking along the jetty, turtles could be seen almost every 10 feet or so. Each turtle would surface for a gulp of air and then submerge again.
The reason for their attraction to the busy jetty is quite simple. Sea turtles are grazers. The hard granite rock forms an ideal place for growth of the seaweed and grasses that sea turtles enjoy.
If you would enjoy the opportunity to see wild sea turtles, then a trip to North Padre Island Texas is well worth it. The best place to see sea turtles is on granite jetties of Packery Channel or at the nearby granite jetty at I.B. Magee Beach, Port Aransas. It can be very helpful to wear a pair of polarized fishing glasses, the kind sold at sporting stores, as they allow for better visualization of turtles just below the surface of the water.
Sea turtles will pretty much ignore you unless your shadow happens to fall across them. Then they quickly flip away into deeper water. This is something you can test yourself – by walking up to them at an angle to avoid your shadow crossing them. Then move and see how quickly they respond once your shadow does fall over them.
Most of all, take heart! In a world of ecological bad news, the return of the sea turtle to the Texas coast is one little victory!