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Sea Turtle Inc. to create aquatic murals on tanks

Beginning on Wednesday, local artists will begin creating an aquatic mural series for Sea Turtle Inc.’s new educational complex.

The murals will be painted on the sea turtle tanks that house the nonprofit’s non-releasable sea turtles. These residents serve as educational ambassadors to their species and have their forever home at Sea Turtle Inc.

“The murals will bring our visitors closer to the underwater environments in our area and enhance their educational experience,” executive director Jeff George said in a press release. “All of the turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc. have unique stories to tell, and the art commissioned for the turtles will be another impactful educational tool.”

There are five resident tanks which will be completed in phases. The first tank that will be painted is home to Gerry, an Atlantic green sea turtle who has made several television appearances. Gerry’s 56,000-gallon aquarium mural art will be completed in one week.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff writer


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Rescuers warn of fishing line dangers to turtles

Patrollers on ATVs spent the summer searching the entire beach for nesting sea turtles.

However, these aren’t the only turtles they keep an eye out for.

Every so often, they also discover sea turtles in desperate need of help, like the ones that are entangled in fishing line and are unable to free themselves from it.

At least 115 marine species are impacted by entanglement, including mammals, turtles, birds, fish and crabs. For air-breathing animals, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement can prevent them from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown.

Fortunately for turtles, the help they need can be provided by the local sea turtle hospital, Sea Turtle Inc.

One such case was discovered by ATV patroller Steve Fowler. As he was on his 64-mile search up-and-down the beach in May, he happened to come across Great Scott, a green sea turtle who is now one of Sea Turtle Inc.’s latest patients.

Great Scott was found lethargic, sitting in a high tide line with an injured front flipper and tar on his shell.

Sea turtles don’t come out of the water unless they’re sick, nesting or injured. So, the Sea Turtle Inc. patroller knew it wasn’t normal for the turtle to be sitting there and he immediately took Great Scott to the facility.

On arrival, patients are given antibiotics, X-rays, blood tests and sometimes even CT scans when needed. Great Scott came into the facility with a variety of issues, so he’s a patient that especially needed these thorough examinations.

Based on Great Scott’s weight, veterinary technicians determined the turtle was less than 5 years old. Green sea turtles like Great Scott don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re around 20 to 25 years old, so veterinary technician Nina Nahvi ruled out nesting as one of the reasons Great Scott was out of the water.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel also noticed Great Scott only has a nub for a right front flipper.

Nahvi determined Great Scott’s injury was not caused by a predator attack because his flipper looks clean and rounded. If it had been caused by a predator attack, it would have looked like the limb was torn off.

This indicated the turtle’s injury was most likely the result of entanglement.

“Now, I don’t know necessarily if it’s entanglement in fishing line because sometimes turtles get entangled in onion sacks or other marine debris,” Nahvi said. “However, by the looks of it, it most likely has something to do with humans,” she added.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say they see a lot of turtles come into the facility with injuries due to entanglement or with fishing hooks in them.

Within the past couple of weeks, the nonprofit rescued two sea turtles entangled in fishing line at the jetties at Isla Blanca.

Those two turtles survived. However, not all of them do.

Unfortunately, the nonprofit has also found several dead turtles entangled in fishing line in that area within the past few months.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say they “see tons of fishing line” every time they walk onto the jetties to rescue a turtle.

“People are not picking up after themselves or practicing good habits out there,” Nahvi said. “They’re disposing of their lines and I don’t think they realize there are endangered or threatened animals out there that could very easily get entangled in that line.”

“It’s not just sea turtles. Any animal like sea gulls and pelicans could also get entangled in that line,” she added.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say there’s “a simple solution” to this problem. Gathering and appropriately disposing of hooks, bobbers and fishing line could help prevent more sea animals from getting injured.

“We try to do the best we can to educate the public,” Nahvi said. “However, it’s going to require people as a whole to start caring about the ocean.”

Although Great Scott had several issues when he first arrived to Sea Turtle Inc., his health is beginning to show signs of improvement. Nahvi said he is finally gaining weight and is “continuing to work on his buoyancy issues.”

Nahvi recently increased his water level to encourage diving. Every morning, Great Scott dives down to the bottom of the tank to take a bite out of his high calcium shrimp and mackerel diet.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel posted on their Facebook page that “Great Scott’s issues should resolve with the help of medications, supplements and Vitamin D from the sun.”

In due time, Great Scott will eventually be released and be able to return back to his home in the ocean.


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South Padre Island Zombie Charge

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – Attention RGV Runners.

The Zombie Charge “Apocalypse in Paradise” is invading South Padre Island Sept. 14 and 15. Prepare for the ensuing Zombie invasion Friday, Sept. 14 at the Zombie Charge free PreParty hosted at Schlitterbahn beach Water Park for packet pick up.

There will be plenty of food, fun and music for the entire family. Then on Saturday Sept. 15 the fun begins at Clayton’s Beach Bar with the first wave to begin at 9:30 a.m. Run the course and avoid the Zombies or hunt the survivors as a Zombie. Runners will receive a Zombie Charge Survivor pack and Zombies will receive a Zombie Make Over by a professional special effects makeup Artist.

Zombie participants will try to take the flags from the survivors. Survivors will run the course, maneuver the obstacle, avoid the Zombies and try to reach the finish with at least one of their flags.

Sound Fun? Definitely an experience to remember for participants and spectators. There will be plenty of photo ops so bring your cameras. Live music by RōZY, a young and talented group from Houston confirmed to perform and promise to make you rock out! Winners of the 2013 Houston Livestock Show Rodeo Rock Star competition and Winners of the Ernie Ball Battle of the bands winners for the 2015 Vans warped Tour.

The RoZY Official Zombie charge has been holding events in Houston and Austin for several years now. It has been very successful primarily because of the pop cultural phenomenon of shows like The Walking Dead, Z-Nation, IZombie and now “fear The Walking Dead,” just to name a few. Let’s face it, Zombies are cool.

The Goal of this event is to encourage the community to adopt a healthy lifestyle through exercise. It’s not only healthy but will be a great personal asset in case of a natural disaster. Be prepared, be fit, is the Zombie Charge Way.

Run The Course, Survive the Zombies and overcome the Obstacles. It’s not just a 5K it’s a way of Life. For more information regarding the Zombie Charge 5k South Padre edition go to the website at www.zombiecharge.com


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Southwest adds seasonal, Spring Break service

Southwest Airlines yesterday announced a slew of new seasonal nonstop flights between Dallas/Love Field and Valley International Airport.

Southwest has added 17 extra flights that will operate nonstop between Harlingen and Dallas/Love Field during high demand days for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2018.

Also, airline officials announced that beginning March 10, Southwest will offer nonstop flights between Harlingen and Dallas/Love Field to provide passenger service for Spring Break. The airport has a shuttle service to South Padre Island.

These Sunday flights will depart from Dallas to Harlingen at 11:35 a.m. and arrive at 1:10 p.m. The Harlingen-Dallas flight departs at 1:45 p.m. and arrives at 3:20 p.m.

“These new nonstop flights to Dallas, in addition to the current nonstop flights to Austin and Houston/Hobby, will offer Rio Grande Valley travelers more options of connecting cities on the Southwest network,” Marv Esterly, director of aviation at Valley International, said yesterday.

The announcement of the new Southwest flights to Harlingen adds to an extraordinary week for Valley International. On Tuesday, officials announced a new air passenger carrier, Frontier Airlines, would begin nonstop flights to and from Harlingen to Stapleton International Airport in Denver and to and from Chicago O’Hare Airport.

Those flights will begin in November.

Currently providing air passenger service in and out of Valley International are Southwest, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

Valley International also is an air cargo hub for DHL, FedEx and Southwest Cargo.

Earlier this month, airport officials announced the airport’s biggest project since 1990, a $15.5 million upgrade to replace 1930s-era concrete on taxiways and aircraft parking areas.

In May the airport opened a state-of-the-art, $3.8 million aircraft fire and rescue facility. The airport is currently undergoing a $1.2 million project to rip out the original late 1980s ceramic tile in the terminal building and replacing it with blue and gray epoxy terrazzo.

“The terminal’s new flooring should be in place for the start-up of these extra flights and, in addition, we have other improvement projects coming up that will benefit our traveling public,” Esterly said.

The airport also added new air chillers and fan coil units, a new HVAC system which has cut utility costs by 30 percent and new LED lighting. A new roof is coming next year.

rkelley@valleystar.com


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Booby on the beach: Rare bird makes Island appearance

A massive gray bill protruding from its face, the large white bird with brown wings — clearly not a pelican — stood impassively on its huge, platform feet atop the jetties one July afternoon. It was a rare Island visitor — a masked booby.

The booby, a seemingly fearless sea bird that plunges, dart-like, for fish in deep waters, was a topic of conversation during a talk on local summer birds hosted by Naturalist Javier Gonzalez at the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center (BNC) recently.

The masked booby — also known by its scientific name, Sula dactylatra — like the occasionally appearing magnificent frigatebird, is a pelagic species, meaning it spends almost all its time at sea, many miles from shore.  However, masked or brown boobies — two of six species of boobies — occasionally appear onshore, often in July, on beaches, piers or jetties.


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South Padre Island Approves Funds for Cruise Ship Study

The city of South Padre Island continuing to pursue the cruise line industry. Island officials say the city's EDC recently approved another $100,000 for a study. 

It's no secret that tourism is a large economic force in South Padre Island. As the summer season winds down, the destination city is looking to increase visitor counts for slow seasons. A possible solution are cruise ships. The mayor of South Padre Island says a study is underway and consultants are meeting at SPI this week. 

Mayor Dennis Stahl, "Step one was to make sure the cruises wanted to come. And they do want to come to the island. Step 2 is developing and scouting out the right infrastructure. That's happening this week." 

According to the mayor four cruise line companies have been in contact with South Padre Island.

Right now, SPI is pioneering the initiative and they're  looking to partner up with other agencies. Mayor Stahl says he doesn't expect the landing facilities to be city owned. 

"The probable landing site is in Isla Blanca Park or just to north of it. In that area."

The city is trying to address a problem affecting business and industry. A problem that is forcing some to reduce staff, that is the off season, which happens to coincide with peak cruise season.

"We want to bring in hopefully thousands of new visitors during our cruise peak season." says the mayor.

Business leaders say that any increase of traffic, especially during the off season, would stimulate the local economy. For now, the analysis continues.

The mayor say it's still too early to make a final decision. Part of that study includes infrastructure and potential landing sites.


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Frontier Airlines coming to Valley International Airport

 Frontier Airlines is bringing its low-cost air fares to the Rio Grande Valley.

Officials with Frontier and Valley International Airport announced yesterday that air passenger service between Harlingen and Denver and Harlingen and Chicago will begin in November.

“I’ll tell you what, I can hardly express my excitement about this big announcement, I can hardly talk,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation for Valley International.

Flights from Harlingen to Chicago O’Hare Airport will be available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, departing Harlingen at 6:05 p.m. and departing Chicago at 1:54 p.m.

Flights to Denver will be available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Denver International Airport, departing Harlingen at 10:55 a.m. and departing Denver at 6:15 a.m.

All of Frontier’s passengers will fly the 180-seat Airbus 320.

“What that is going to mean is lower fares for the Rio Grande Valley than offered by anyone else,” said Daniel Schurz, Frontier’s senior vice president of commercial operations. “We can bring more passengers to this region, we’re going to bring more tourists into this region.”

About 200 officials, airport and airline executives, business people and media from Harlingen, South Padre Island, Cameron County and Mexico were present for the announcement.

“As the mayor would say, this is another great day for Harlingen, it’s a great day for South Padre Island, it’s a great day for Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley,” said Harlingen Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mezmar. “So thank you for your confidence in our market and our demographics.”

A significant emphasis in yesterday’s announcement involved South Padre Island. Mayor Dennis Stahl said Island officials have been involved with Harlingen, county and airport officials in negotiations with Frontier for the previous eight months.

“We’re just so excited that Frontier is bringing its low-cast fares to this area,” Stahl said. “We appreciate it, and we’re going to fill up those planes.”

The Frontier announcement is just the latest good news for Valley International.

Just days ago airport officials announced the airport’s biggest project since 1990, a $15.5 million upgrade to replace 1930s-era concrete on taxiways and aircraft parking areas.

In May the airport opened a state-of-the-art, $3.8 million aircraft fire and rescue facility. The airport is currently undergoing a $1.2 million project to rip out the original late 1980s ceramic tile in the terminal building and replacing it with blue and gray epoxy terrazzo.

The airport also added new air chillers and fan coil units, a new HVAC system which has cut utility costs by 30 percent and new LED lighting. A new roof is coming next year.

Frontier Airlines becomes the fifth air passenger service at Valley International, a group which includes Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and Delta Airlines.

Valley International also is an air cargo hub for DHL, Fedex and Southwest Cargo.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Beach bathroom debate resurfaces on Island

Providing portable restroom facilities for beach goers was once again the subject of debate at the Wednesday, Aug. 15 meeting of the South Padre Island City Council.

Council member Alita Bagley opened the discussion, reminding everyone that the topic was discussed and voted on in a previous Council meeting. During the July 18 meeting, Council voted to give Shoreline Management Director Brandon Hill approval to send a plan to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) for placing portable restrooms near some of the beach accesses.

“In my tenure with City Council there have been very few things that I voted on and then later had doubts whether or not it was the right decision, and this was one of those times,” Bagley said. “After thinking about so many additional issues, I started asking a lot more questions.” Bagley explained this was the reason she asked for the item to be revisited and that she had provided Hill with a list of questions to answer about his plan.

Hill responded by providing a presentation covering each of the areas of concern. The first item addressed was proving a list of all the beach accesses along Gulf Boulevard where a restroom could potentially be added. In addition to the existing facilities at the Gulf and Treasure Island accesses, Hill identified Sea Island, White Cap, Blue Water, Riviera, Daydream, Bougainville, Aquarius, Good Hope and Sapphire accesses.

“Council member Bagley also asked that we discuss the pricing associated with the alternatives,” reported Hill. Hill said it would cost $5,130 per month, or $61,500 per year, to provide six portable restroom units compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

To provide a fixed structure with more aesthetic appeal, or what Hill termed as ‘Island Way’ facilities, the cost was estimated at $116,516, plus an additional $6,000 per year required for maintenance.

Hill was also asked to provide beautification options for the portable structures. He displayed pictures of examples from other cities where the portable restrooms are enclosed inside of wooden structures of various designs and colors.

On the issue of drawbacks associated with placing restrooms on the beach, Hill stated that the naturally unstable and dynamic environment of the beach increases the risk for flooding and other hazards to impact the facilities. He also warned of the potential for contamination and beach closures resulting from spills. Hill also raised concerns about large vehicles that would need to drive on the beach to service the facilities and the damage they may cause to the dunes.

By KEVIN RICH


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DOT Announces $616.9M in Grants to Airports in 45 States, Four Territories

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $616.9 million in airport infrastructure grants, as part of the total $3.18 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airports across the United States.

"The Department has been investing heavily in our nation's airport infrastructure, which will strengthen economic growth and create jobs in communities across the country," said Secretary Chao.

This fourth increment of funding provides 242 grants to 226 airports, and will fund 408 infrastructure projects. These include runways, taxiways, aprons, terminals, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles, snow removal equipment and two firefighting training facilities.

U.S. infrastructure, especially its 3,323 airports and 5,000 paved runways, increases the country's competitiveness and improves the traveling public's quality of life. According to the FAA's most recent economic analysis, U.S. civil aviation accounts for $1.6 trillion in total economic activity and supports nearly 11 million jobs. Under the Secretary's leadership, the Department is delivering AIP investments to strengthen the safety and efficiency of America's airports.

Airports receive a certain amount of AIP entitlement funding each year based on activity levels and project needs. If their capital project needs exceed their available entitlement funds, the FAA can supplement their entitlements with discretionary funding.

The Projects

Among the grant awards announced are:

Aspen-Pitkin County/Sardy Field Airport in Aspen, Colo., $5.7 million – This project funds the design to relocate the existing Runway 15/33 for flight safety.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., $17 million – The grant funds the final phase of a new 4,200-ft. taxiway around the approach end of Runway 9L. This project will enhance the safety and efficiency of airfield operations.
Guam International Airport in Tamuning, Guam, $16 million – The airport will use the funds to construct the final phase of a 30,000 square foot aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) building to help the airport meet safety requirements. The new facility will also extend the life of the ARFF equipment by protecting it from adverse weather conditions.
Sioux Gateway/Col Bud Day Field Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, $13 million – Funds will be used to reconstruct a portion of Runway 17/35 that has reached the end of its useful life.
Lafayette Regional/Paul Fournet Field Airport in Lafayette, La., $10 million – The grant funds the fourth phase of the project to construct a new terminal building for the airport.
Alpena County Regional Airport in Alpena, Mich., $9 million – The airport will use funds to construct the final phase of a new terminal building for the airport.
Olive Branch Airport in Olive Branch, Miss., $15 million - Funds will be used for the local community to acquire and control a 460-acre, privately-owned airport, the busiest general aviation airport in Mississippi.
Helena Regional Airport in Helena, Mont., $4.6 million – The grant will fund the final phase of an expansion project for the terminal building.
Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., $11 million – fFunds will be used to repair 10,000 ft. of Runway 5R/23L.
Akron-Canton Regional Airport in Akron, Ohio, $6 million – The airport will use the grant to repair the terminal building for more efficient movement of passengers and baggage. The grant will also fund the replacement of snow removal equipment to help keep the airport operational during winter weather events.
Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport in Brownsville, Texas, $2.3 million – Funds will be used to construct a new terminal building.
Appleton International Airport in Appleton, Wis., $12 million – The grant will fund the construction of a regional aircraft rescue and firefighting training facility to increase the access and frequency of training.

 


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Richard Moore Outdoor Report Bahia Grande Survey

Monitoring efforts are underway at the state's largest wetland restoration project in the Rio Grande Valley. Richard Moore takes us out with fisheries biologists who are sampling Bahia Grande's expanding aquatic resources.

Bahia Grande, the sprawling 25,000-acre United States Fish and Wildlife tract just north of Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel, is the largest wetland restoration project in the state of Texas.
 
The 10,000 acres of wetlands being restored had been a vast dust bowl since being cut off from the Laguna Madre by the construction of the Brownsville ship Channel in the 1930's.
 
After many years of cooperative effort with various groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property in 2000 and in 2005 dug a pilot channel partially filling the wetland.
 
This abated the dust problem, but the channel needs to be widened to provide adequate tidal flow, which will keep the estuary from becoming hyper saline.
 
Boyd Blihovde, Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of which Bahia Grande is a part, says work on the permanent channel that would create a fully functioning estuary could begin as early as the end of this year. Even without the permanent channel, Bahia Grande is supporting remarkable aquatic life.
 
"We have shown that seagrass comes back, oyster beds come back, and not only that but the fish populations and even sea turtles are using Bahia Grande."
 
Monitoring studies are underway at Bahia Grande using bag seines, gill netting and other means to determine baseline data on the estuary revealing populations of shrimp, black drum and many other marine species.  This research will continue after construction of the permanent channel to ascertain just how successful the restoration will ultimately be with the hope of eventually opening Bahia Grande to the public for fishing and other recreation.
 
"I think it proves that sometimes it is very simple, the restoration process. In this case, you just really add water and the wildlife will come back.” Says Blihovde.


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