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Tally's tale: Kemp's ridley sea turtle back home in Texas after surviving remarkable 2-year journey

After Tally was found stranded and near death on the distant shores of Talacre in Northern Wales, the Royal Air Force stepped up to help bring her home to Texas.

HOUSTON — When Tally the Kemp's ridley sea turtle is released back into the Gulf of Mexico soon, she will have a whale of a tale to share with other turtles. 

The critically endangered sea turtle's 22-hour journey from the UK to Texas on Wednesday capped a nearly two-year international effort to save her life and get her home. 

Tally was taken to the Houston Zoo for a full medical check-up where veterinarians determined she is strong, vigorous and healthy. 

Her remarkable journey is a story of resilience and dedication that began on the distant shores of Wales. 

Compassion and collaberation

Kemp's ridleys are native Texans but occasionally they get swept up in the powerful Gulf Stream and carried all the way across the Atlantic. That's what happened to Tally. 

In November 2021, a dog walker spotted the sea turtle on the shore of Talacre in Northern Wales. Tally was near death but the Anglesey Sea Zoo provided months of intensive care to nurse her back to health.

The next step was to get Tally home to Texas. An international team led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went to work to figure out how to make it happen. First, they had to wade through some red tape on both sides of the pond designed to protect endangered species, including Kemp's ridleys. That took an entire year. 

The next hurdle was figuring out how to transport the little turtle back to the States. 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). Ken Andrews of Turtles Fly Too described this as their “furthest and most complex mission ever flown.”

The Royal Air Force (RAF) stepped up to help with logistical hurdles and to offer their facilities. Acting RAF Sergeant Beth Roberts said it was a privilege to work on this “worthwhile project.”  

No doubt, Tally got first-class treatment when she flew home on British Airways on a commercial flight donated by Turtles Fly Too.

Tally back home in Texas

Tally will spend a few more days in a deep water tank at the Houston Zoo to regain muscle strength. 

Thankfully, Zoo veterinarians found no sign of organ damage or pneumonia from the time spent in the Atlantic.

“The cold waters of the Northeast Atlantic usually result in certain death for this species of subtropical sea turtle in the winter,” said Mary Kay Skoruppa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas Sea Turtle Coordinator. 

Once she's ready, Tally will head to the Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research where they'll attach a tracking device to monitor her movements. Then she'll be released back into the Gulf where her epic journey began. 

If all goes well, the international team of partners along with the Padre Island National Seashore Turtle Stranding team, are planning to meet in Galveston to celebrate Tally’s release.

“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," Skoruppa said. "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.”

Tally has already proven she's a tough little turtle, so they're hopeful she will continue to thrive in the wild and she'll have people all over the world cheering for her.

If you spot a sea turtle on a beach or shoreline, quickly report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8535).

RELATED: Kemp's ridley sea turtle spotted nesting at Galveston Island State Park for second year in a row

Partners involved in the effort to rescue, rehabilitate and return Tally to the U.S. include British Divers Marine Life Rescue, Anglesey Sea Zoo, the Royal Air Force, Turtles Fly Too, Houston Zoo, Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, Padre Island National Seashore, the Texas Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.

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