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Tally's tale: Kemp's ridley sea turtle released back into Gulf of Mexico after epic two-year journey

Tally the turtle is back home in the wild where she belongs. Her release this week in Galveston went swimmingly thanks to an international team.

HOUSTON — Tally the Kemp's ridley sea turtle that washed ashore in the UK is back where she belongs in the Gulf of Mexico and she has a whale of a tale to share with other turtles. 

The critically endangered sea turtle's 22-hour journey from the UK to Texas last 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. 

A week later people from both sides of the pond gathered in Galveston to see Tally off and wish her well. 

“She was ready, I can certainly tell you that — hearing the waves, I think something just clicked for her and she was ready to be returned," Syrena Johnson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Texas A&M.

The Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research fitted Tally with tracking devices and identification tags so they can monitor her movements.

“Part of our long-term research is to understand how sea turtles use the Galveston Bay estuary system,”  Dr. Christopher Marshall, director of the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, explained. “We’re the first ones to do that, and we now have satellite tags out on about 30 turtles.”

The data will also help researchers understand how turtles’ movements and behaviors are impacted by climate change and other environmental factors, TAMU reported.

RELATED: Endangered sea turtle headed to Houston after being swept from the Gulf all the way across the Atlantic to Wales

Compassion and collaboration

Tally's remarkable journey is a story of resilience and dedication that began nearly 5,000 miles away on the distant shores of Wales. 

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 and suffering from cold shock 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. 

Figuring out how to transport Tally back to the States was another big hurdle. 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 to Houston on a British Airways flight donated by Turtles Fly Too.

RELATED: Endangered sea turtle headed to Houston after being swept from the Gulf all the way across the Atlantic to Wales

Tally back in Texas

Tally spent 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,” Mary Kay Skoruppa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Texas Sea Turtle Coordinator, explained. 

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.

“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.”

“It’s been a huge privilege to contribute to this effort and see one of our most endangered species safely rehabilitated and returned to its proper environment," Dr. Debbie Thomas with Texas A&M at Galveston said. 

For its part, TAMU at Galveston is currently raising $20 million to expand the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, including new facilities and an enhanced focus on educating visitors about the importance of conservation.

“There’s a huge need for broader education and outreach,” Thomas explained. “The sea turtle facility that Dr. Marshall and his team have envisioned is going to be a game changer.”

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

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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