TEXAS VIEW: Finding Tally: A Texas turtle’s long journey on sea, land and air

THE POINT: Texas Gulf Coast is becoming a safe haven for flippered friends.

A recent bit of news from Galveston reads like a children’s book: Tally the Turtle wandered too far from home and got lost. Tally was cold, alone and afraid. But then some nice marine biologists found her and let her fly in an airplane to be reunited with other turtles in Texas.

But this isn’t a children’s book. Tally is a real-life sea turtle — a Kemp’s ridley, to be exact. Her breed is the smallest species of sea turtle (adults only grow to about two feet long) and one of the rarest. They are found primarily in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast, but they can be swept up in strong Gulf Stream currents and taken far from home. Tally was discovered stranded and near death on the shores of Northern Wales, near Liverpool, in 2021.

Then last month, after a year and a half of rehabilitation at the Anglesey Sea Zoo, Tally made the 4,600-mile trip home. The rescue effort involved several agencies. The Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research at Texas A&M University at Galveston received Tally and helped prepare her for her new home. The Houston Zoo provided veterinary care. The British Royal Air Force helped resolve logistical and bureaucratic hurdles, which included a layover at Heathrow. (We’ve been there, Tally.) And a nonprofit organization called Turtles Fly Too chartered the actual flight. Yes, wayward turtles happen often enough that there’s a 501(c)(3) that mobilizes general-aviation pilots to return them to their homes. Founder Leslie Weinstein told us his group has relocated more than 4,000 turtles since 2014. And, because this story isn’t quirky enough, we note that Turtles Fly Too is based in Boise, Idaho.

Weinstein was complimentary of the Texas agencies he has worked with. The Texas Gulf Coast is earning a reputation for turtle research and care. When the 2021 winter storm shut down much of the state, it also stunned thousands of turtles. The South Padre Island Convention Centre made national headlines when it housed about 2,500 of them. The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi was involved with that effort as well as another event that left 400 loggerhead turtles stranded last year. In March, the aquarium opened the Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue which gives the public a behind-the-scenes look at marine rescue. And the Texas A&M at Galveston center, one of the very few university sea turtle conservation programs in the nation, is expanding to a $20 million facility where “Sea turtles in residence will serve as ambassadors to educate visitors on marine conservation, coastal resiliency and life in coastal Texas,” according to a press release.

Turtles like Tally get stranded, in part, because of climate change. Warmer waters in northern latitudes let them venture farther north in summer than they used to. When temperatures turn cold, they’re caught.

Tally’s story has a happy ending, but many others do not. We’re grateful for those who ensure that turtles like Tally can always come home to Texas.

The Dallas Morning News