Posted: Wed 30th Aug 2023

RAF spearheads mission to return endangered sea turtle found washed up on a Flintshire beach to Gulf of Mexico

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Aug 30th, 2023


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Royal Air Force bases in Anglesey and Northolt have played critical roles in an extraordinary mission to return a critically endangered sea turtle found on a Flintshire beach to its natural habitat 4000 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.

After being found on Talacre beach by a dog walker who presumed it dead, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, now named Tally, was reported to the British Divers’ Marine Life Rescue.

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.

[Photo: RAF]

The responding biologist from the Anglesey Sea Zoo, Gem Simmons, soon realised Tally was still alive, and along with the director of the zoo, Frankie Hobro, provided months of intensive care until the turtle was healthy again.

With Tally fully recovered, this year an international team decided it was time to come home.

Next, the team had to figure out how to transport Tally back to her home continent.

To help with the logistics of the flight, the team reached out to Turtles Fly Too, who partner with the Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to coordinate and facilitate aviation in endangered sea turtle relocation efforts.

Ken Andrews of Turtles Fly Too described this as their “furthest and most complex repatriation effort we have ever been involved in.”

Crucially, the RAF stepped up as a key partner, assisting in resolving logistical hurdles and generously offering their facilities at RAF Valley and RAF Northolt.

Wing Commander Chris Pote of RAF Valley noted the mission’s significance, saying it involved “one of the most endangered of all sea turtles.”

Acting Sergeant Beth Roberts added that collaborating on this “worthwhile project” had been a privilege.

In the early hours of this morning, Wednesday 30 August, 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 then a scheduled flight to Texas ahead of release.

[Photo: RAF]

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.”

Ken Andrews 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.”

Mary Kay Skoruppa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas Sea Turtle Coordinator, expressed her gratitude to all the international partners and volunteers involved.

[Photo: RAF]

“Thanks to the response of a great group of international partners and volunteers, Tally is alive and ready to come home.”

Once Tally arrives in the U.S., the turtle will be transferred to the Houston Zoo, where veterinarians will ensure it is healthy enough to be released into the wild. If approved by the Zoo’s veterinarians, researchers from Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research will attach a tracking device to monitor its movements after release.

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,” Mary Kay 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.”

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