RAF Valley in Anglesey and RAF Northolt in London, assisted in two stages of an extraordinary relay – that resulted in the rehabilitation of one of the world’s most endangered animals back into the wild and to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
A Kemps-Ridley turtle was found washed up on Talacre beach, near Prestatyn, N. Wales nearly two years ago and has been dubbed ‘Tally’ in honor of that link. It was initially believed to be dead but thanks to some quick thinking it was recovered owing to the timely intervention of British Divers Marine Life Rescue expert Gem Simmons — who now acts as an unpaid conservation advisor to RAF Valley, an airfield that borders a considerable nature reserve. The animal was then transferred to Anglesey Sea Zoo — where it has been nursed back to health thanks to the dedication of Sea Zoo Director Frankie Hobro and her team.
At the request of Anglesey Sea Zoo and wildlife protection organizations in the United States, the RAF has agreed to assist in a key stage of the rehabilitation of this critically endangered turtle. In what the lead US turtle rescue charity Director Ken Andrews describes as the “furthest and most complex repatriation effort they have ever been involved in.”
In the early hours of Wednesday morning August 30, RAF Valley will provide a police escort from Sea Zoo to RAF Valley and then a team of volunteer pilots will transfer the animal from RAF Valley to RAF Northolt for onward transit to Heathrow and thence a scheduled flight to Texas ahead of release.
Ken Andrews of the U.S. Charity ‘Turtles fly too’ said we are indebted to the RAF for their valuable time and assistance here, both in applying their military planning and logistical skills to this operation and in providing practical help in ensuring the best prospects for the animal by allowing it to fly from RAF Valley, as a road move of the animal overland would have added considerably to the animal’s stress levels and disruption
Group Captain Matt Hoare, RAF Valley’s Station Commander said: “This is clearly not core Royal Air Force business, but my team here at Valley have been delighted to assist with this most worthy venture. It is probably worth noting that the repatriation means that Valley (and RAF Northolt) would have played a small part in helping save what the lead US turtle rescue charity described to us this morning as one of the most endangered of all sea turtles in the world’s oceans, with only 1 in 1000 making it to Tally’s age; indeed, it would difficult to imagine a more threatened animal. We look forward to being able to monitor its progress.”
Acting Sergeant Beth Roberts, who has been involved in planning this from the start, said: “it has given us all a spring in our step to know we are helping in this way and it has been a privilege to work with these other international agencies, wildlife charities and Anglesey Sea Zoo — to assist with this worthwhile project. God Speed Tally!!”
Mary Kay Skoruppa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas Sea Turtle Coordinator added: “Thanks to the response of a great group of international partners and volunteers, Tally is alive and ready to come home.”
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest and one of the most endangered species of sea turtles in the world.
Though primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal waters of eastern North America, juvenile Kemp’s ridleys sometimes get swept up in the powerful Gulf Stream and are carried all the way across the Atlantic.
If all goes well, the international team of partners along with Dr. Donna Shaver, the Texas Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator from Padre Island National Seashore, are planning to meet in Galveston to celebrate Tally’s release back into the wild in early September.
“An endangered species is one that is at risk of extinction in the near future, so every individual counts,” Skoruppa said. “We are incredibly thankful for all the volunteers and partners who have given Tally a second chance at life; from the dog walker in Wales who reported the turtle, to Turtles Fly Too who are generously flying her back to Texas. We hope that Tally will grow to maturity and return to nest on a Texas beach in a few years to help ensure her species’ survival into the future.”
Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research will attach a tracking device to monitor its movements after release.