- 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.

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