A critically endangered Kemps Ridley turtle which was discovered on a North Wales beach barely alive has been flown out to the Gulf of Mexico for release back into the wild after almost 20 months of rehabilitation at the Anglesey Sea Zoo.
The mammoth pan-Atlantic repatriation exercise to fly Tally – named after Talacre Beach on the North Wales coast where it was found – for re-release in the Gulf of Mexico has taken almost a year to implement and was only possible due to the incredible generosity and dedication of the organisations involved, with huge numbers of people volunteering their time to enable the tightly-coordinated operation to go ahead.
Anglesey Sea Zoo's Director and owner Frankie Hobro said: “RAF Valley on Anglesey have been instrumental in the repatriation process and we cannot thank them enough for their logistical input and support. Without it the repatriation mission would not have been possible.
“We would so like to thank the volunteer pilots Chris Sharp and Tom Baker and all the British Airways staff on the flight to Houston, and numerous other organisations based in the USA who have been instrumental to the repatriation process, particularly Turtles Fly Too, the US Fish And Wildlife Service, Houston Zoo, and Texas A&M University.”
Ken Andrews of Turtles Fly Too said of the mission: “We have literally hundreds of people working on this mission on both sides of the ocean that will need to be aligned. What a wonderful outpouring of love and support for Tally – perhaps the luckiest sea turtle on the planet!”
Tally the turtle was reported stranded on Talacre Beach near Rhyl on Sunday 28 November 2021 by a member of the public and further investigation revealed that the sea turtle was still alive, so it was transferred to the Anglesey Sea Zoo for specialist intensive care.
Tally is a Kemps Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), the world’s rarest species of turtle and critically endangered, protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations. Just two known breeding sites remain for the species globally, both in the western Gulf of Mexico, where there are only around 8,000 breeding females in the world, making every individual extremely precious. The Anglesey Sea Zoo team now believe that Tally’is a female, which makes her repatriation and release even more important for the future of her species, which is at risk of extinction.
Frankie Hobro said: “Yesterday was an extremely exciting day for Tally and for our team and I cannot express how grateful we are for the support we have had from so many people to fly her home. When you look at how sick Tally was when we brought her in for rehabilitation, in an unresponsive and comatosed state, we are incredibly proud of this little turtle and how much bigger and stronger she has grown in our care.
“She coped extremely well with the 22 hours of constant travelling it took us to reach Texas and she appears unscathed and excited to be home. I am very much looking forward to releasing Tally in just a few days, straight back into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico where she belongs.”
Upon arrival at the airport in Houston, Tally was assessed and found to be well and unscathed. She was quickly transferred to the turtle rehabilitation facility at nearby Houston Zoo, where a pre-release tank was waiting for her, to enable her to build up her swimming muscles for the next few days until she is released. Tally will undergo health assessments and blood tests to confirm her fitness for release, then she will be fitted with a satellite tag before being released straight back into the sea.
Anglesey Sea Zoo is fundraising to build the first dedicated turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility in the UK, to enable them to rescue and save more turtles by giving them the specialist care that they need, and to ensure that every turtle washed up on a British beach while still alive gets the best possible chance of survival.
Cold-stunned turtles are becoming more common in the UK due to increasing sea temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns and the need for a purpose-built facility is becoming more urgent every year.
The Sea Zoo currently still has Tonni in its care – the juvenile loggerhead turtle who washed up on the shore of the Menai Strait in January this year. Tonni has now recovered well and is at the pre-release stage of care, and is expected to be flown south in the Atlantic for release back into the wild in a few months time. NB: Tonni is currently not on display and cannot be viewed by members of the public – the sea turtle is currently being carefully rehabilitated in quarantine.