Tom Ross: With plastic trash threatening turtles, South Padre residents take action |

Tom Ross: With plastic trash threatening turtles, South Padre residents take action

An Atlantic green sea turtle swims in a tank at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island, Texas.

Editor’s note: This column was edited April 23 to reflect that South Padre Island and Boca Chica are not the only nesting beaches for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

I couldn't help but observe the large number of colorful fragments of plastic trash imbedded in the sand as we took our last stroll on the beautiful beaches of South Padre Island on Friday afternoon.

The community had scheduled a beach cleanup day for the following morning, but we were destined to be aboard a flight to Dallas and I wanted to pitch in, so I picked up fistfuls of trash. My motivation came from a couple of sea turtles, one named Gerry and the other Allison.

Gerry and Allison, both Atlantic green sea turtles, are long-term residents at the rehabilitation facility maintained by Sea Turtle Inc. about a mile and a half from the beach we were combing.

Sea Turtle Inc. also enlists the South Padre community to protect the future of the sea turtles that come ashore this time of year to lay their eggs in the sand. South Padre Island, along with nearby Boca Chica, comprises one of the few remaining nesting beaches for the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

Volunteers frequently check the beaches this time of year to spot female turtles digging their nests in the sand, so that the eggs can be protected. Last year was a banner year, particularly for the Kemp's ridley turtles — 2012 saw 72 nests and 7,223 eggs laid.

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However, rehabilitating injured turtles is a major part of the mission at Sea Turtle Inc. Turtles arrive there after stranding themselves on the beaches due to injuries caused by boat props, fishing lines, shark attacks and ingesting pieces of plastic.

All three of the turtles Sea Turtle Inc. returned to the ocean during its last release in November 2012 had been treated for injuries they suffered after mistaking bright pieces of plastic for their natural prey.

Before I go further, I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing the community or the City of South Padre Island for the problem with plastic in our oceans and on our beaches. This is not about Texas, it's about all of us and the amount of plastic we discard into the environment. The city of South Padre's public works department has a beach maintenance division that keeps trash barrels at roughly 50-foot intervals and they sweep the beach more than once daily. South Padre is a great place to visit, full of people who rival Steamboat residents in their friendliness.

Still, plastic happens. Beach combers on South Padre are more apt to find bottle caps and fragments of beach toys than they are to find seashells in front of the high-rise condos that line the beach. Ironically, farther north along North America's longest barrier island, beyond the limits of the resort, the beach is thick with seashells and even more trash.

At the risk of coming off as sanctimonious, I've decided to observe Earth Week by swearing off disposable plastic razors. I seriously doubt I'm going to save a turtle by keeping plastic razor handles out of the landfill, but I'm going to take that small step and look for other opportunities to cut back on plastic.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email