Page last updated at 15:33 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 16:33 UK

Rare sea turtle set for release

Willy, the Kemp's Ridley turtle and Claire Little, from Weymouth Sea Life
Claire Little will fly out again in early June to see Willy finally being released

One of the world's rarest sea turtles that was nursed back to health in Dorset after washing up on a UK beach has arrived in the US to be released.

The Kemp's Ridley turtle, named Willy, washed up in Devon in January 2007. The small female weighed only 5lb 12oz (2.6kg) and measured 11.8in (30cms).

She was taken to Weymouth Sea Life centre and tube-fed vitamin-enriched fish soup to bring her back to health.

Willy will spend a month in a US centre before being returned to the wild.

Willy - short for Wilhelmina - is only the second ever Kemp's Ridley found alive in the UK, the Sea Life centre said.

The team who looked after her had hoped to bring her back to the US last summer but were thwarted by red tape designed to combat trade in rare and endangered animals.

Claire Little, from Weymouth Sea Life, said: "Luckily the paperwork finally came through and we were able to plan Willy's return to the States.

"She will now spend a month acclimatising and having final health checks at a turtle rescue centre in North Carolina."

Rarest and smallest

Ms Little accompanied Willy on the flight to North Carolina, where the turtle was given a medical check before being sent to the rescue centre on Topsail Island, a three-hour drive away.

She said she will fly out again in early June to see Willy finally being released.

The Kemp's Ridley turtle is the rarest and the smallest of all sea turtles, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

It is a critically endangered species and was close to extinction in the 1980's.

The adult turtles are olive-green and they have a broad parrot-like beak.

They grow to less than 3ft (1m) and weigh up to 100lb (45kg) and are found in the Atlantic North American coast region and the Gulf of Mexico.

Nearly all females return each year to a single beach - Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas - to lay their eggs.

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