Sea turtle themed paper holders, artwork, table bowls, and even stuffed toys and pillows find homes in Dr. Donna Shaver and Cynthia Rubio’s offices. Lately, I’ve been right along the menagerie! There are several offices scattered around the government buildings at the Padre Island National Seashore – all with various materials and stories alike. But there are two offices in particular that I’ve been in and I do say that they may be the most well decorated. The fun interiors are often a welcome sight to comb through while I wait for either of the two biologists to find a stopping point in their work before giving me their full attention to whichever newest venture is in the works.
While it seems like everything has been about the sea turtle releases, there’s been a lot of good laughs and story telling behind the scenes. I’ve gotten to talk with Cynthia Rubio, my park supervisor and park Supervisory Biologist, about tons of topics from riding down the beach while listening to Pitbull and her family’s love of Disney media to strategizing about the methods and equipment we need for the social media hatchling releases. Because of COVID-19 guidelines, the famous sea turtle releases at Padre Island have been closed to the public and it’s been the team’s mission to create an online experience with completely new content that the public hasn’t seen or heard before. This would seem like a big bite to chew as someone who isn’t familiar with this work, but with Cynthia and her 23 years of working at the seashore, it’s been much smoother than expected. Despite her busy schedule, Cynthia always tries to make time for me when I pop my head into her office for a question about the schedule for co-hosts or my latest idea for social media content.
Cynthia’s office is only a stone’s throw from Dr. Donna Shaver’s office, both located in the Turtle Lab. From the beginning, Dr. Shaver struck me as a woman with a plan in her mind and a passion in her heart. If Dr. Shaver has an idea that will benefit the national seashore and the people who have come to enjoy it, she will stop at nothing to fulfill that plan. As someone who has worked at the seashore for 40 years now, I’m inclined to believe she knows what she’s doing. As shy as Dr. Shaver says she is, she has a lot of life lessons to share with me as we connect on being scientists and Texas A&M Aggies. We’ve had numerous conversations about the importance of diversity in the STEM field and the national parks and the importance of passing along knowledge and opportunities to the younger generations.
One of Dr. Shaver’s favorite stories to tell is about how grown men will cry at hatchling releases. She always says that it’s very emotional to think about these tiny turtles, just starting off in the world and already having to dive head-first into the Gulf of Mexico. She says that they take our hope that someday they will come back, that some part of the park’s efforts have helped the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle population back from near extinction. As you watch the first, the second, the third, and all the way through the last of the baby sea turtles enter the waves on an early morning, you begin to think about what that could mean for our everyday lives. If these little hatchlings, their shell about the size of a dollar coin, can put up such a fight, what does that say for our own lives?