Padre Island (päd`rē, păd`rē), low, sandy island, c.115 mi (185 km) long, less than 3 mi (4.8 km) wide, S Tex. It is characterized by large, irregular sand dunes, sparse vegetation, and a strong prevailing wind off the Gulf of Mexico. The island is now split by the dredged Port Mansfield Channel. Parts of the island have been developed as resorts, and oil and gas are extracted from the ground. Padre Island was explored and charted in 1519 by Alfonso Alvarez de Pineda. It became infamous as a ship's graveyard; during a hurricane in 1553, most of a Spanish treasure fleet of 20 ships broke up on the island. Padre Nicholas Balli, for whom the island was named, founded the Santa Cruz Ranch c.1800. Padre Island National Seashore is located in the undeveloped central part of the island, where more than 350 kinds of birds, and many small animals, reptiles, and varied marine life are found. A Kemp's ridley nesting area was established there in 1978 in an effort to preserve the sea turtle.