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South Padre Island - Look For Sea Shells

Author: Dr. A. Gordon Melvin

( Article orginally published January 1963 )

When you see the sign Padre Island (in the photograph on this page) you will be visiting a part of the Texas Coast until recently out of reach of most Americans.

Now it is the nearest bit of seacoast for shell collectors who live in the Southeast, or in such distant states as Minnesota and North Dakota.

Little known to most of us, this long, narrow island stretches parallel to the mainland shore-line along almost half of the southern coast of Texas.

On the shore side it forms the bay called Laguna Madre. On the other side, toward the Gulf of Mexico, is its seemingly interminable sandy beach.

A glance at a map will show that it is continuous, from a point on the coast near Victoria, all the way down to Brownsville on the Mexican Border.

But most of the southern part of this narrow strip is relatively inaccessible, so that on AAA maps the road is described in a box as "Not advisable, dependent on low tide."

There is little doubt that, in coming years, Padre Island will be increasingly visited by more and more holiday adventurers. This is insured by the fact that it has recently become the third of the new National Sea-shores.

Each of these three is very distant and different from the others. Point Reyes in California, and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, lie close to large cities. Padre Island is relatively remote.

It is the longest undeveloped segment of sea-shore in the United States, 117 miles in length. It is about three miles wide at its widest point, but only one-eighth of a mile where it is narrowest, a short, if pointless, walk from coast to coast.

The island is subtropical, being hot in summer, and mild in winter. And it is close to a part of the country that is growing rapidly as a winter resort.

The waters of the Gulf abound in fish and water-fowl. The land consists of grass-covered dunes between the two shore lines, the chief vegetation being sea-oats, croton, and morning glory.

Native birds include the redwinged blackbird, the Wilson plover, egrets, little blue and great herons, pelicans, the laughing gull, and the black skimmer.

Eighty miles of shoreline are included in the new National Seashore. Secretary Udall has pointed out that this (with the other National Sea-shores) gives the people of the United States "285 miles of new shoreline for their enjoyment, safeguarded for perpetuity."

Other shell collectors need considerably more guidance than I had when I visited Padre Island late last August.

A careful inspection of a map will make it clear that the would-be visitor must choose with care his point of approach, since the island can only be reached by bridge or ferry.

It is possible to cross to it far south, near Brownsville, at Port Isabel; or way up the coast near Corpus Christi; or where I entered by ferry at Port Aransas.

The most accessible part of the coast of the long island is that paralleling the paved road that connects the two entry points which lie between Aransas Pass and Corpus Christi.

But this road itself is a deception, for it must be left by a side road if you are to get to the actual shore. Turning off at one of these exits, I was able to take a swim and collect a few tiny Coquinas before my time ran out.

There are a number of shell enthusiasts in some of the towns near the island, and they are very knowledgeable about the local sea-shells. Collectors may find it helpful to visit the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, at 1201 N. Water Street, where some advice on shelling may be offered.

A collection of the local shells may be seen at the Junior Museum at 1202 N. Water Street. It gives the collector some notion of what he might be able to find. Most of these local species may be collected at relatively accessible points.

The well-known favorite, becoming scarcer of late, the Horse Conch (Fasciolaria gigantea Kiener) is sometimes taken in the vicinity of t h e lighthouse on South Padre. Shrimpers bring in deep-water shells to Port Aransas, but that is a story for a later article.

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