Padre Island National Seashore

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Sea Turtle at Padre Island National Seashore
Sea Turtle at Padre Island National Seashore (courtesy, National Park Service)

Padre Island is one of a chain of islands that stretches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States from Maine to Texas. These islands are barrier islands, so-called because they guard the mainland from the direct onslaught of storms. On many of these low-lying islands humankind has left its mark: seaside homes, lighthouses, fishing villages, vacation resorts. But on Padre Island it is not the work of humans but the handiwork of nature that is most evident.

Padre Island, like all barrier islands, is a dynamic place where you can witness change wrought by the gentle touch of breezes, by the relentless crashing of waves, by the rhythmic coming and going of tides, and, most dramatically, by the violent battering of tropical storms and hurricanes. The many environments of Padre Island—beach, dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats—are shaped and reshaped daily in response to these natural sculptors. You can see the signs of change everywhere: sand blowing in the wind, new seashells deposited by a wave, a washover channel cut into the island by the power of a great storm. Another more subtle change that is occurring, according to scientists, is the slow expansion of the entire island toward the mainland as winds and storms deposit sand on the island's west side.

The plants and animals of Padre Island are well adapted to the ever-changing nature of their native home. Sea oats, for example, thrive here. This wild shore plant is a pioneer species, one that moves into areas of loose blowing sand where few other plants can grow, and takes root. With the sand anchored by roots, other plants take hold and dunes grow, sometimes to heights of 30 or 40 feet. The dunes are held in place unless something destroys the plants. A particularly fierce storm can do it. People can do it, by trampling the grasses or driving over them; that's why hiking and driving in the dunes are prohibited.

Among the wildlife that flourishes on the island are many birds that live here year-round or visit seasonally. Along the beach you may watch laughing gulls circling overhead, sandpipers skittering back and forth on shore searching for crustaceans, or terns, herons, and egrets flying by. In the shallows of Laguna Madre you may see flocks of white pelicans patrolling for fish. Inland, on the dunes and grasslands, killdeer, meadowlarks, and sandhill cranes live. Other animals, though not as readily observed, also inhabit the island; among then are coyotes, blacktailed jackrabbits, lizards, Western diamondback rattlesnakes, and, in the intertidal zone along the beach, ghost crabs and ghost shrimp. The underwater life of the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico is just as abundant, as is that of Laguna Madre, a fertile nursery for saltwater fish.

Published: 13 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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