Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wandering Turtles Clog Runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport (KJFK)

JFK, situated in the middle of Jamaica Bay, has been a favorite habitat for diamondback terrapin turtles  

Wildlife biologists working to keep turtles from wandering onto the runways of Kennedy Airport are beginning to see their efforts pay off. 

JFK Airport, situated in the middle of Jamaica Bay, has been a favorite habitat for diamondback terrapin turtles, which only leave the brackish waters and step on shore to lay eggs.

But airplane and turtles sharing the same runway could pose a threat.

"Anything can be a hazard to aircraft, so we monitor all kinds of wildlife population here," said Laura Francoeur, one of Port Authority's wildlife biologists helping to keep the balance between passenger safety and nature preservation.

"Keeping terrapins off also saves the terrapins so they don't get run over potentially, and it also helps eliminate any operational impacts delaying flights at the airport," said Francoeur.

June is the main nesting season for turtles, making it the busiest time of the year for biologists working on the terrapin tracking project.

Two years ago at this time, more than 800 turtles were captured and released into the wild. Last year, the number was 400.

This year, there have only been 80 turtles stopped near the runways of JFK, thanks to new efforts like a black corrugated plastic fence acting as a turtle barrier.

Francoeur says the fence allows the terrapins to actually nest outside the barrier so there's still a habitat available for them to nest in.

But every once in a while, a bold turtle comes out of its shell and makes it past the fence. Port Authority biologists are constantly patrolling the airport and will scoop up the reptile before they reach the runway. The turtles are then tagged, released and tracked.

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