The Economic Impact of Sea Turtle Inc.

Release crowd at Isla Blanca- Tommy J. Saenz

Over 1,000 people attended a rehabilitated sea turtle release February 15, 2015. STI's sea turtle releases usually have large attendance of hundreds, but this giant crowd was a surprise to everyone, even backing up the causeway and requiring police escort to get staff and the turtles to the beach. Photo courtesy of Tommy Seanz.

By Teresa Shumaker

An economic study performed this summer by two STI interns, Samantha Grimes and Kara Koenig, revealed that Sea Turtle, Inc. has a substantial economic impact on its community.

STI has always strived to make lasting environmental and educational changes to its community, but this emerging research shows that we are good for business too.

By conducting surveys at STI’s facility during its peak summer season, Grimes and Koenig were able to determine that a large portion (nearly 60 percent) of STI’s visitors are from Texas outside of the Rio Grande Valley.

They were able to capture information from nearly one percent of the 64,702 visitors to STI in June and July. Of those surveys, 10 percent traveled to South Padre Island specifically to visit STI, and another 12 percent said STI was a contributing factor to their trip planning. They also surveyed attendees on two rehabilitated sea turtle releases with American Diving.

By creating a statistical weight for visitors who said STI influenced their visit, and collecting information on their lodging choices and other plans, the interns were able to estimate that nearly $87,000 was brought to the local economy because visitors were drawn by STI.

Further research is needed to truly pinpoint the influence STI has on the economy, but an estimated $87,000 from only one percent of 64,702 people is impressive.

Another interesting element the interns uncovered was a third of STI’s first-time visitors surveyed (whose decision to come to the island was not influenced by STI) said they would definitely plan another trip for sea turtle related events; 53 percent said maybe. And although foreign visitors in this category were small (only 3 surveyed), all of them said they would definitely return for something sea turtle related.

This study shows that STI not only plays an important role in visitors coming to the island — especially traveling Texans — but it also plays a key role in bringing them back.

Visitors who decide to visit the island because of STI are not only spending their money on lodging and accommodations, they are supporting small businesses, too.

About 80 percent of those who came to the island specifically to visit STI or attend sea turtle releases said they visited at least one other island attraction, such as restaurants, local shops or other outdoor attractions — more than half visited at least two.

Another significant sea turtle attraction is STI’s hatchling releases, which draws crowds of hundreds.

We suspect many make the trip especially for these releases based off the activity of our hatchling hotline and Facebook page from people eagerly awaiting the announcement of the dawn beach releases.

These releases were not considered in this study, nor was any contribution from staff and interns who reinvest in the economy through housing and other expenses.

We look forward to seeing what continued research will unearth. Next year, more interns will carry on this project, the surveys will continue to be refined and hatchling releases will be included. But for now, the preliminary information is quite exciting.