South Padre Island.
South Padre Island Sun begins to rise over the coastal sand dunes. © Kenny Braun

Stories in Texas

South Padre Island

Protecting the World's Largest Barrier Island

Safeguarding South Padre Island TNC's latest conservation deal in South Padre Island protects vital habitat for the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Bordered by the Laguna Madre to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east, Padre Island stretches for 113 miles down the southern Texas coastline. It’s the world’s longest barrier island, home to a bustling resort community and habitat for 16 wildlife species with federal or state conservation status.

That includes the world’s smallest and most critically endangered sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley. While most are found in Mexico, in the U.S., they nest primarily on South Padre Island. Each summer, visitors crowd the beachfront to watch hours-old hatchlings journey from sand to surf. A natural imprinting process occurs along the way, allowing female sea turtles to remember and return to the beaches from which they hatched when it’s time to lay their own eggs.

Contact with humans and human development can cause turtles to “false crawl,” or enter the beach without nesting. Protection of what’s left of the wild, undeveloped coastline of South Padre Island is critical to helping these turtles—and numerous other threatened species in the region—replenish their populations.

In 2000, The Nature Conservancy and its partners came together to safeguard nearly 25,000 acres of South Padre Island. Nearly two decades later, we’re still working to protect the Gulf Coast. This year, we’re collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees—the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the General Land Office—to add over 6,200 acres to that number in the largest conservation effort on South Padre Island in two decades. By protecting portions of the remaining wild, undeveloped Texas coastline, its beauty and integrity will be preserved for people and nature for decades to come.