Padre Island National Seashore

Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nesting

Padre Island National Seashore contains a 70-mile stretch of undeveloped barrier island on North Padre Island off the coast of Texas near Corpus Christi. This is not the area of the famous Spring Break invasion, that's on South Padre Island. The National Seashore contains about 65.5 miles of sandy beach with accompanying dunes and tidal flats. The park is an important nesting area for the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, although the biggest threats to the continuation of the species comes from Gulf coast shrimpers nets and Mexican fishermen who catch the turtles for food and to use their skin to make boots... Efforts to bring the turtles back to the area to nest began in 1978 and bore their first fruit in 1992 when the first pair of turtles returned to the beach to lay their eggs. By 2007, that number was up to 81. Texas Wildlife officials release thousands of turtle hatchlings on the beach every year.

Padre Island National Seashore is also located in the center of the Central Flyway and, depending on the season, up to 380 species of birds can be found on the property - including 18 species that are listed as threatened or endangered by either states or the federal government or both. Best time to see the birds is in the fall, winter and early spring as most of the migratory species are in for their annual visits. 380 species is about 45% of all the avian species found in North America. That means Padre Island National Seashore is a favorite viewing spot among serious bird-watchers.

Map of the Padre Island National Seashore area

Most of the park is primitive and access to the beach requires 4WD. Vehicles are allowed to access all but four miles of the beach. On the west coast of the island is Laguna Madre, an area famous among windsurfers. Camping is allowed at Malaquite Campground, Bird Island Basin, North Beach, South Beach and Yarborough Pass only. The camping is primitive and there are no hookups available anywhere. The park does offer a water filling station and an RV dump station for registered campers at Malaquite Campground. Camping at Bird Island Basin will cost you $5 per day while a site at Malaquite Campground costs $8 per day.

Padre Island is also known for the amount of Sargassum (a seaweed from the Sargasso Sea area in the Atlantic Ocean) that accumulates on the beaches and for the amount of human-derived trash that washes up. Long term studies have shown that the majority of the trash comes from the commercial shrimping industry while about 14% of the trash comes from the offshore oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas drilling is allowed on the property as the National Park Service does not own any mineral rights in the area. That means heavy equipment is often at work in beach, prairie and tidal flat areas that are used by the endangered sea turtles and hundreds of species of migratory and nesting birds.

Padre Island National Seashore is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Malaquite Visitor center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except for Christmas Day.

Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchlings being released on the beach
Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchlings being released on the beach