- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - Venice Scheurich diligently patrolled the beach along the Padre Island National Seashore for years before her efforts were rewarded with a sight that changed her life.

“I was emotionally overwhelmed. I still get emotional,” she said. “I got to witness something that’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s the ultimate experience.”

It only took four years to be exact, but Scheurich finally had the chance to see what she’d been hoping to spot on all those muggy mornings and humid afternoons: an endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle emerging from the Gulf of Mexico to carve out a nest and lay its eggs in the sand.

Scheurich, 76, a retired Del Mar College math and statistics professor, said she has had a happy retirement thanks to the ridleys.

She has been a volunteer for the turtle patrol for 16 years. She often would ride her bike along the National Seashore and became a volunteer when she heard about the program in the late 1980s.

Nothing is better than searching for and protecting the turtles, she said.

While finding the nests is among the paramount conservation efforts in the country, the Kemp’s ridley - the smallest species of sea turtle - got off to a late nesting start this year, said Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at the National Seashore.

The first nest was found April 27 at the Seashore, compared with last year’s first one April 18. The turtle’s nesting season is from April to mid-July and the number of nests found also is down.

There were 116 nests discovered through Monday, while 146 were found by July 3, 2013, Shaver told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/1mz7IwR ).

“They could just be lagging behind due to the late start. Perhaps the season will last longer, but it remains to be seen,” she said. “We just don’t know.”

Numbers of nests found have declined since the “Arribada,” or arrival, that occurred in 1947 when 40,000 turtles were seen nesting in a single day.

The population of Kemp’s ridleys declined in the 1960s for unknown reasons and have fluctuated since, Shaver said.

The National Seashore protects about 70 miles of coastline and has conducted turtle patrols since 1986 in hopes of finding and protecting a clutch - the nest of a turtle - that could contain more than 90 eggs.

In his first year of volunteering, Clark Williams spent more than 120 hours on patrol, driving about 800 miles along the beach in search of nests. Williams was lucky enough to find a nesting turtle in his third year of volunteering.

“(Finding the nest) got me hooked,” Williams said.

Williams, a retired dentist of 36 years, spends about five hours a day at the National Seashore, driving about 40 miles up and down the beach.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “I enjoy the turtle patrol. I had so much fun the first year.”

In the five years Williams has volunteered, he has found five nests.

He remains hopeful to find another nest during his patrol by telling himself and the other volunteers “Maybe today’s the day!”

Volunteers must be 18 or older and have a valid driver’s license. They also must attend a day of orientation and training in February or March if they want to volunteer for turtle patrol, and an additional day of training is required if they are interested in driving a utility terrain vehicle on patrol. Volunteers also must pass a physical test to ensure they are fit to conduct walking or UTV patrols.

About 100 people are devoting their time to the Kemp’s ridley locally, and no matter how many times the turtles get hit by a wave, they keep heading toward the Gulf, Williams said.

He continues to volunteer because he thinks that by taking time out of his day to patrol, the Kemp’s ridley can one day make it off the endangered species list.

It’s a statement echoed by others on the turtle patrol like Scheurich who hope that the next nest is within reach just down the beach.

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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