The first statue in the Turtles About Town project, named The Protector, was installed at City Hall.

See a sea turtle? Take a shellfie!

That’s the new rule when you visit Galveston Island, where Houstonians can enjoy an outing to see 50 colorful sea turtle statues that have been installed around the island since 2018. The statues are part of Turtles About Town, a community art project created by local nonprofit Turtle Island Restoration Network and Clay Cup Studios, the island’s interactive art studio.

“Houston has their boots, and now Galveston has sea turtles,” says Joanie Steinhaus, Turtle Island Restoration Network’s gulf program director.

Mermaid + Turtle = Mertle! is located outside of Clay Cup Studios, co-creator of the project.

From a shiny, gold turtle outside The Bryan Museum to Mermaid + Turtle = Mertle!, each statue represents a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the Texas state sea turtle and one of the most critically endangered sea turtle species. Businesses and organizations sponsor the turtles, while local artists are commissioned to give each one its own personality and meaning.

The upper Texas coast is one of the only places Kemp’s ridleys nest, Steinhaus says, and every nest is critical to the recovery of the species. Turtle Island Restoration Network has sponsored the 1-866-TURTLE-5 sea turtle hotline for more than 10 years and continues to raise awareness of the need to report any nesting or injured sea turtle to the hotline along the entire Texas coast.

“If we want sea turtles to return to our beaches, everyone must do their part to ensure that these endangered species are protected,” says Steinhaus. “Every nest counts.”

Each statue is designed by a local artist. “There is nothing quite like that last bite of half-melted ice cream in the bottom of the waffle cone, and there is nothing like swimming with a 70-year-old sea turtle in waist-high water,” says artist Shay McAnally, who painted SUNDAE for Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream.

When you visit the island for this outdoor activity, Steinhaus says, be sure to tag Turtle Island Restoration Network in your images and use the hashtag #TurtlesAboutTown. A free map of the statues is available on the nonprofit’s website. If you can’t make it to the Island, the group also offers a virtual tour.

“Since the start of the project, we have been overwhelmed with the support it has received,” says Steinhaus. “Being able to give back to our community and offer a safe, outdoor activity to enjoy during the holidays makes it even more special.”

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