Outpouring of love: Amid outages community unites to save turtles

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Even without light, the sun was shining and looking bright for Sea Turtle Inc.

The rehabilitation center had been without power since Monday at 2 a.m. struggling to keep turtle residents warm enough and saving the thousands of cold stunned turtles washing up to shore due to the extreme cold weather in South Texas.

However, the moment Sea Turtle Inc. asked for help on their social media, hundreds of people showed up to volunteer in any way they could.

Captain Henry Rodriguez from Henry’s Charters and Marcos Vega, a firefighter and paramedic as well as a member of the APEX Anglers fishing group, rescued 142 sea turtles on Valentine’s Day. Yet, more and more turtles were in need of help and people from the Rio Grande Valley left their homes to lend a helping hand.

Jenny Davalos, from Harlingen, had been out of power since Sunday and had been spending a lot of time with her family inside her truck to warm up. Davalos said as soon as she saw posts that 4×4 trucks were needed to assist the turtles her family decided to head out.

“I am a nurse and due to no power in the clinic at work I had extra time to kill,” she said.

“Plus, I thought it would be a beautiful experience for my daughter, she loves animals. She said she fell in love with the babies so we had them in the backseat wrapped in blankets,” Davalos said.

Approximately, Davalos and her family rescued 30 turtles and stayed to help trucks that were getting stuck in the mud.

“I saw some pretty amazing people do some amazing things out there, it was very humbling,” she said.

Mariah Reyna, of San Benito, has been out at the beach helping since three days ago with her family.

“My business is shut down because of the power shortages. So I was home, when I saw Sea Turtle Inc. needed help I quickly asked my husband if we could go. We packed up and headed that way,” she said.

“I love all turtles, and animals really so I’m always quick to try to help. I absolutely love that my daughter, husband and myself can come together to do something great for an animal in need. We will continue to go out daily until I am able to open up my business again. There’s absolutely no better way to spend our time,” Reyna said.

The day before Wednesday, Reyna said she and her husband helped pull out five trucks that were stuck in the sand and loaded with turtles. In their truck 15 turtles were able to be transferred.

“This entire situation has taught me to be grateful for everything I have and everything I am capable of,” she said.

However, the situation is dire and it is getting harder to help the turtles.

“We went today and found trucks and trailers stuck. We pulled them out and headed back. My husband said it wasn’t safe. We had about 3 more miles to go. We will be back. The trucks we pulled out were only able to secure one turtle prior to us arriving. Two men in one truck said they had been there since last night,” Reyna said.

“It’s really sad that it’s getting harder to reach them, especially with this arctic front headed our way, more are bound to wash up,” she said.

Kassie Schneider, from Harlingen, has also been going with her family for the past two days to help.

“Today was our second day, I follow Sea Turtle Inc. on Facebook and a group called Coastal Cleanups and when I saw what was happening I tried to call and message of what to do,” she said.

“I was told there were a lot of turtles at Boca Chica in the South Bay area and it was not a second thought, I got dressed and we were able to go out there and start helping. There were turtles everywhere, it was a horrific sight,” Schneider said.

As she arrived, Schneider described there were large trailers set up for volunteers to place the turtles and transport them to the South Padre Island Convention Centre.

“We went as far down as anyone could go with a 4×4 vehicle and we started to go get them. I am actually crying, it was overwhelming if you have never seen anything like that in person,” she said.

Schneider knew there were so many turtles that had to be left behind because the tide was coming in and it was getting dark.

“You just had to pick and choose which ones are you going to save and which ones are you going to leave behind. However, there were so many people and so many organizations it was nice. Like COVID never happened, politics weren’t a thing and we were just helping,” she said.

Schneider added there were hundreds of people helping, people she knew and strangers that were seen helping each other out just for one cause.

Though RGV locals were the majority volunteering, they were not the only ones helping. Gina McLellan, from South Carolina, comes to South Padre Island to spend time for the winter every year. McLellan said she has been volunteering at Sea Turtle Inc. for a few years.

“As a volunteer, I have seen a couple of things that are incredible. One is the sheer volume of turtles who have been brought in but bigger than that is the number of volunteers who have jumped to the rescue,” she said.

“Those out on boats collecting turtles, walking through yucky mud and we have had people bringing supplies that were desperately needed from paper towels and gloves for staff. It has been a tremendous outpouring of caring and concerns from the community,” McLellan said.

For her, it has allowed people to not forget about animals but also demonstrated how even in difficult situations a community is able to unite.

“This whole island has been without water and electricity for several days now and yet all the people here are bringing supplies and trying to help,” she said.

“It is an outpouring of humanity even for the turtles, I have found that extremely heartwarming and brings me a lot closer to this community,” McLellan said.

At the same time, people from their own homes have been sending donations to the links provided by Sea Turtle Inc. Many people were tagging SpaceX on the comment section of their social media profiles.

On Wednesday morning, Wendy Knight, Executive Director of Sea Turtle Inc., posted a video sharing SpaceX had reached out to help.

“I want to take a moment to provide you with some critical updates. As you know not having power and electricity has been our most critical component at this facility since Sunday at 2 a.m. Our patients need warm water and filtered water to stay alive and we have been critically concerned with our resident patients that live here in 350,000 gallons of water in our resident center and our hospital patients,” she said on video.

“I could not be more excited to announce to you that at 1:30 a.m. this morning in partnership with our friends and partners at SpaceX, they arrived on our facility with a large commercial generator that was big enough to host the electrical services for our education facility, our resident center and our clinic and hospital. So as we speak, our patients are warming up to the temperature they need to be and we are going to be able to assess what kind of damage has been done by the prolonged lack of power in our facility,” Knight continued.

Though power had been restored, Knight shared a few concerns about the damage caused due to the outages.

“This kind of reach out from our community sponsors at SpaceX there are no words to explain the gratitude we have. They came to us in our darkest hour of need and found a generator that was complex to find and even more complex to wire into our system.

“Unfortunately, the time and temperature of the water became too critical for our patients to remain within their own tanks. Right now we have hundreds of pounds of our resident turtles that are dried out on the floors and we hope that we will be able to move them to our hospital shortly,” she said.

“Unfortunately with every step forward we have taken a few steps backwards. We have now found that the prolonged hold back of electricity has blown out all ten of our heaters and chillers and they are no longer able to provide heat or any function to these large 350,000 gallons of water. This is a devastating piece of information because each individual heater is thousands of dollars to replace, so that will be our next challenge to face. But for today, the sun is bright. SpaceX has provided us with a generator and the function that we need in this facility. So thank you SpaceX and thank you South Padre Island, the response of you and sharing our story is overwhelming. We will continue to provide you updates as the day unfolds.”

Those who come across a stranded sea turtle in the Laguna Madre bay or on the beach are asked to call Sea Turtle, Inc. immediately at its 24/7 emergency line at (956) 243-4361.

Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel are also asking the public to consider helping the facility offset the tremendous cost of treating the turtles by making a donation.

Donations can be made via PayPal at https://tinyurl.com/my5b2eq2 or by visiting Sea Turtle, Inc.’s Facebook page.

ecavazos@valleystar.com