The arrival of April means sea turtle rescuers will be combing Cameron County beaches in search of nests.

The annual nesting of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles usually begin along the South Texas coast in early to mid-April, according to Jeff George, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island.

The non-profit sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation group sends teams to look for nesting turtles or signs of turtle nesting activity so they can recover the eggs, incubate and hatch them under supervision, and then release the hatchlings on South Padre Island.

“ We offer public releases of hatchlings mostly in the months of June, July and August,” according to the group’s website.

At 6 p.m. Friday, April 5, Sea Turtle Inc. is celebrating the start of the season with Turtle Ball 2019 at the organization’s headquarters at 6617 Padre Blvd. on South Padre Island.

A cash bar will be available.

The party is a time for fun shared between Sea Turtle Inc. and the community.

“ Each year, we crown a new King and Queen of Sargassum, so we will be passing the crown, as well,” a Facebook event page says of the ceremonies.”

The ball will also honor the interns who do a bulk of the nest searches during the season.

This year’s interns include Ashley Moreno, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Alicia Mackewicz, Florida Institute of Technology; Emma Pontius, University of Maine; Eli Yager, California State University Chico; Jennifer Peasnall, University of Delaware; Paulina Adame, New Mexico State University; Rachel LeCates, University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Rhiannon McGlone, Lock Haven University.

There are a few ways the public can help Sea Turtle Inc. The organization accepts donations and offers a Sea Turtle Inc. membership. The organization also welcomes volunteers at the facility and during beach cleanups.

Furthermore, people can visit the Sea Turtle Inc. facility, which is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays with ticket sales ending at 3:15 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors or military, $4 for children and children younger than 4 are admitted free. The center has an education center, tanks with sea turtles and a gift shop.

Educational presentations are offered throughout the day. The turtle talks teach the public about the mission of Sea Turtle Inc. to save endangered sea turtles.

As the season progresses, Sea Turtle Inc. does occasionally invite the public to witness the release of turtle hatchlings.

“ Not all hatchling releases are public,” the group’s website explains. “Hatchlings can only be released when they are in an active state (known as a frenzy). When the hatchlings are in a frenzy in the middle of the night, the hatchlings are released on the isolated northern beaches by trained staff members. These releases are not open to the public. Whey they frenzy at dawn (between 5 to 6 a.m., we host a public release. Usually notice for a public release is an hour and a half before the release.”

Patrols this year will involve, for the first time, coordination with SpaceX activities near Boca Chica Beach. SpaceX has already been conducting testing of its prototype Starship Hopper at its launch facility at the end of State Highway 4.

“ Sea Turtle, Inc. is responsible for nesting surveys on Boca Chica starting in early April,” George said. “We do periodic patrols from mid-July through early April looking for dead or injured sea turtles, and we have also been collecting ‘baseline’ data on any sea turtle or marine activity on Boca for the last 4 years. This will give the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service along with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department a look at what is ‘normal’ activity so that any activity during actual launches can be compared.”

Between early April and mid-July, Sea Turtle Inc. patrols at least five days a week and uses SpaceX equipment (ATVs) for these patrols, George said.

“ During this time, SpaceX is required (by their Environmental Agreement) and does provide access to Sea Turtle Inc. to look for nesting activity immediately before and after any closure,” George explained. “In the event of nesting, eggs are removed (and always have been removed) to be placed in a protective hatchery on South Padre Island.”

It is also important to know that Kemp’s ridley sea turtles like to nest during daylight hours and often when high winds exist, a time not conducive to launches, George further explained.

Coastal Current Weekly