Texas Treasures: Sea Turtle Conservation and Padre Island National Seashore
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This thesis examines the history of sea turtle conservation along Padre Island, specifically within Padre Island National Seashore. I trace the ecological and anthropogenic construction of the island and how sea turtles rose to become the icon of Padre Island National Seashore. The rise in sea turtle conservation on Padre Island occurred because of a major shift away from preserving landscapes for recreation toward scientific research for the protection and conservation of endangered species and their habitats. I argue that although federal and state officials fought for the preservation of Texas’ coast in the political arena, it was the naturalists, conservationists, and biologists who fought for the conservation of its wildlife. The advocacy of conservationists for better education about sea turtles along Padre Island resulted in their escalated status as a conservation icon and renewed attention among Texans for their natural heritage. This thesis shows the importance of Padre Island as a living landscape that adds to Texas’ identity. In this thesis I utilize the Ralph Yarborough, Anella Dexter, John Beasley, and Bob Eckhardt Collections at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Austin, Texas. These paper collections consisted of several newspaper clippings, magazines, correspondence, and speeches related to the political and public debates surrounding the creation of Padre Island National Seashore between 1958 and 1975. This thesis also relies heavily on scientific literature, particularly focusing on the ecology of the island and the biology, conservation, and natural history of sea turtles in Texas waters. These sources have shaped this project into a comprehensive analysis of how and why sea turtles became a part of Texas’ coastal identity.