At the Sea Life Center in Port Isabel, each tank serves as a window to the underwater world off the Texas coast
South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center in Port Isabel features a sea robin that has "wings like a bird, feet like a crab, and a face only a mother could love" in its collection of marine animals.
Donna Colley chuckles nearly every time she tells that joke as she gives tours of the 30 fish tanks at the center. The aquariums house a representation of the sea creatures that live in the Gulf of Mexico off the southern tip of Texas.
The sea robin got its name because it flaps winglike fins when it skims across the bottom of the ocean. With a pair of eyes high on a narrow head, the fish has a sharp nose and a permanent scowl.
One of the cutest members of this aquatic collection is the striped burrfish, a member of the puffer fish family. With a snub nose and big, blue-green eyes, he looks like a puppy in a pet-shop window.
Each tank is a window to the underwater world off the Texas coast. Scarlet and George Colley, Donna's parents-in-law, started the nonprofit organization as an educational facility for visitors to South Padre Island. "The kids, and we're all kids at heart, love the touch tank, where they can pet a starfish," Donna says.
The Colleys also offer boat tours to meet the bottlenose dolphins of the area. The 90-minute tours into Laguna Madre offer a personal encounter with the kings of the sea. "We never touch or feed the dolphins," Donna says. "[Scarlet and George] have been giving the tours so long that the dolphins know them and come right up to the boat."
In addition to educating the public about the sea life, the Colleys are also called upon to help rescue stranded dolphins. Donna says that several times a year they will help transport the marine mammals to medical facilities in Port Aransas. One of the most common injuries to sea life is caused by discarded fishing line. "Trash is about the worst problem we see on the beaches and in the water," she says. "We want to encourage everyone to help keep the waters clean for humans and animals."
The Sea Life Center is at 110 N. Garcia, across the street from the Port Isabel Lighthouse near the South Padre Island causeway. The aquarium is open daily from 10:30am to 6pm during the summer and until 5pm (closed on Tuesday) from September through May. Admission is $3 per person, and feeding times at 11am and 2pm can be extra exciting.
The dolphin tours are by reservation and are $20 "per nose, no matter how old that nose is," Donna says. There is a minimum of two and a maximum of six passengers on the tours. The Colleys also do birding tours that last between two and three hours which are $45 per person. For more information, call 956/943-6626 or go to www.spisealife.org.
930th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.
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