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Royal Air Force assists in the repatriation of critically endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle

RAF Valley in Anglesey and RAF Northolt in London, have assisted in two stages of an extraordinary relay, that will result 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.

Turtle swimming in water enclosure

A Kemp's Ridley turtle was found washed up on Talacre beach, near Prestatyn, N.Wales nearly two years ago and has been dubbed ‘Tally’ in honour 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.

2 people looking at the turtle in it's enclosure

At the request of Anglesey Sea Zoo and wildlife protection organisations in the United States, the RAF has agreed to assist in a key stage of the rehabilitation of this critically endangered turtle.

"This is the furthest and most complex repatriation effort we have ever been involved in."

Ken Andrews
US, Turtles Fly Too, Charity Director

In the early hours of Wednesday morning 30 Aug, an RAF Police escort was provided from Sea Zoo to RAF Valley, where a team of volunteer pilots transferred the animal from RAF Valley to RAF Northolt for onward transit to Heathrow and thence a scheduled flight to Texas ahead of release.

RAF Police escort to RAF Valley

“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.”

Ken Andrews
US, Turtles Fly Too, Charity Director

Tally the turtle in her moving container

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 be difficult to imagine a more threatened animal. We look forward to being able to monitor its progress.”

People loading the Turtle container into the light aircraft

Acting Sergeant 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.

people on runway at night waving off the light aircraft carrying Tally the turtle to RAF Northolt

“An endangered species is one that is at risk of extinction in the near future, so every individual counts. 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.”

Mary Kay Skoruppa
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas Sea Turtle Coordinator

Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research will attach a tracking device to monitor Tally’s movements after release.