A criticially endangered turtle that was found washed up on a beach in North Wales is being returned to the United States with some help from the Royal Air Force.
At the request of Anglesey Sea Zoo and wildlife protection organisations in the United States, the RAF agreed to assist in a key stage of the turtle's rehabilitation process – providing a police escort and flying the turtle from RAF Valley to London.
Ken Andrews, the director of the US rescue charity involved in the operation, described it as the "furthest and most complex repatriation effort" it had ever been involved in.
The turtle, dubbed Tally, was found washed up on Talacre beach, near Prestatyn, almost two years ago by a dog walker.
Initially presumed dead, the endangered animal's fate took a delightful turn through the timely intervention of Gem Simmons from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity.
Serving as an unpaid conservation advisor to RAF Valley, which adjoins a substantial nature reserve, Gem's swift thinking saved the day.
Subsequently, Tally, a Kemp's ridley turtle, found herself at Anglesey Sea Zoo, where meticulous nurturing by Sea Zoo director Frankie Hobro and her committed team nursed her back to health, paving the way for her repatriation.
Personnel from RAF Valley provided a police escort from Sea Zoo to Valley, after which a team of volunteer pilots flew Tally to RAF Northolt in west London. She was then taken to Heathrow and thence a scheduled flight to Texas ahead of her release into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
"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," said Group Captain Matt Hoare, RAF Valley’s Station Commander.
"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 one in 1,000 making it to Tally’s age.
"Indeed, it would difficult to imagine a more threatened animal."
Among the turtle species, Kemp's ridleys stand out as both the smallest and one of the most critically endangered.
While they usually inhabit the Gulf of Mexico and the coastal waters of eastern North America, young Kemp’s ridleys sometimes hitch a ride on the mighty Gulf Stream and end up cruising all the way across the Atlantic, which is how Tally ended up in North Wales.
The operation to get Tally on a flight to Texas involved military precision and planning.
Ken Andrews of the US charity Turtles Fly Too expressed her gratitude to the RAF for flying Tally from RAF Valley, as driving her to London would have added considerably to her stress levels.
Acting Sergeant Beth Roberts, who had been involved in planning the operation, 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!"
If all goes according to plan on the other side of the pond, Tally is looking at being released into the wild in September.
Mary Kay Skoruppa, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas sea turtle coordinator, 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."