Amid a rising tide of development on the Gulf Coast, The Nature Conservancy recently acquired over 6,000 acres of land on South Padre Island in order to protect the fragile habitat of sea turtles there.

Laura Huffman, director of the Texas branch of the conservancy, says the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which crawls onto beaches throughout Mexico and the U.S. to nest and lay eggs, is a particularly fragile species.

“The ridley sea turtle is the smallest and most endangered of the world’s seven sea turtle species,” Huffman says. “The nesting habitat was the goal of this project and of the projects that precede this purchase.”

In addition to protecting the turtles’ habitat, the conservancy’s land acquisition will also provide protected habitat for dozens of bird species.

Huffman says the BP oil spill in 2010 provided impetus for the project, which included partnerships with numerous state and federal agencies.

“The BP oil spill gave us an opportunity to think about how we [could] recover from man-made disasters differently,” Huffman says. “How do we take those situations and invest more concentrated dollars into conservation and into recovering habitat than we might have otherwise?”

Coastal land is a major draw for developers and other entities. But Huffman says she believes her organization will be able to fend off efforts by the government, for example, to requisition the land through eminent domain.

“If you have ever had the opportunity to either watch the sea turtles come out of the water or go back into the water, it is a natural show that is amazing and hard to find on this planet anymore,” Huffman says. “Our job is to protect it for generations from now.”

Sol Chase