SPI’s Sea Turtle Inc. to celebrate 46th anniversary

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Shown swimming in his tank at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island is Gerry, an Atlantic green sea turtle who was stranded by a hurricane in 1980. (Courtesy photo)

Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island is inviting everyone who can make it to the organization’s 46th anniversary/founders day celebration on Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Sea Turtle Inc., founded in 1977 by Ila Fox “Turtle Lady” Loetscher, is located at 6617 Padre Blvd. A major expansion was completed just over four years ago on the facility, a nonprofit sea turtle hospital and education museum dedicated to protecting sea turtles worldwide through conservation, medical care, applied research and education. Sea Turtle Inc. is responsible for more than 50 miles of coastline and gets more than 250,000 visitors a year.

On Nov. 14, the organization will host a special day for the community, tourists and supporters, with self-guided tours, enrichment feedings, turtle talks and a view of the world’s largest fully enclosed sea turtle hospital in the world, currently under construction adjacent to the current facility. Sea Turtle Inc. CEO Wendy Knight said the new 15,000-square-foot hospital is coming along well.

“It’s really moving forward and we’re excited about the first quarter of 2024 to get it open and get patients in there,” she said.

The two story hospital will feature a CT scanner just for sea turtles, eliminating the need to transport the animals elsewhere for diagnostics, a 1,000-square-foot surgical center, and a full research center, Knight said. It’s the continuation of the big expansion the first phase of which was completed a little over four years ago, she said.

“We’ve been able to really grow the education program and the museum with the addition of those buildings,” Knight said.

Admission fees will be waived for the 46th anniversary event and visitors will be asked for a donation instead, she said, noting that as a nonprofit Sea Turtle Inc. is completely dependent on donations. Knight said she thinks Loetscher, who died in 2000, would be impressed by how far the organization has come.

“I think she would have been really proud,” she said. “It was her and her friends and families here in the Rio Grande Valley that really made this happen and that saw the need and started to really work on it.

“We still have second and third generation families in the Rio Grande Valley that were part of Ila’s circle of friends and the families that really did this work. This is an organization that was really fueled by good people that wanted to do good things, and we try really hard to make them proud in the decisions we make and in the growth we’ve seen.”