Allison the sea turtle gained global fame when she became the first sea turtle to wear a prosthetic device. Now her home on South Padre Island is gaining momentum towards a new, expanded facility for Sea Turtle Inc. The organization first planted it roots when Ila Loetscher gave injured sea turtles a home at her residence in 1977. Since then, the group has become a non-profit organization and expanded into the facility where it exists today. Having developed a great degree from a backyard venture, the center is halfway through a $4 million campaign for expansions, upgrades and new facilities. They have done this through grants and donations only, avoiding the use of bank loans and debt.

“An anonymous donor provided us with $100,000 toward the expansion,” explained Megan Chilcutt, the organization’s marketing and public relations coordinator. With the multi-million dollar expansion comes an educational annex, amphitheater, state-of-the-art veterinarian facility and a place to house one dozen interns. The group hopes to break ground on the education annex and amphitheater early next year with the hopes of its completion in the summer of 2015. The ultimate goal of the non-profit is to become a world leader in sea turtle recovery and veterinary facility.

Allison is one of the seven sea turtles housed at the current facility. Approximately 95 percent of turtles rescued are returned to the wild, but due to Allison having only one flipper she is a permanent resident on the island.
She spends the majority of her day in a small shallow tank where she can easily come to the water surface to breathe and can be monitored by volunteers who care for her. For a few hours each day, she wears her prosthesis and is allowed to swim in a larger tank with another turtle. The device attaches to her shell and has a rudder-like tail that keeps Allison from swimming in circles. The stability allows her to move around as she pleases. “I love taking care of her,” said Barbara Midriff, a volunteer at the center. “In fact, if someone rescues a turtle, they get to name it.” She referred to another turtle in the facility that was named Merry Christmas, as she was rescued on a Christmas.

The facility also plans on having a lagoon with a nature walk path, additional parking for the up to 600 visitors per day, and a place to house interns.
“About four hundred students apply each year for the internships. Only about twelve are selected,” Chilcutt said.
Most students who apply are majoring in marine biology and seek the internship to interact and care for the injured animals.
“We have students applying from all over the world,” said Catlin Bovery, a one-time intern and now works at the facility.

Sea Turtle Inc. can be visited on a daily basis except on Mondays when the employees and volunteers perform maintenance and wipe the nose and handprints off the clear windows on the turtle tanks. No admittance fee is required, but donations are encouraged to assist the facility in completing their goals. Sea Turtle Inc. is located at 6617 Padre Boulevard on South Padre Island and can be reached at (956) 761-4511.

Jason Hoekema