CBS2 Exclusive: Team Rescues Turtles Who Make It Onto Runways At JFK Airport

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The next time your flight is delayed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, it might not be a problem with the plane.

As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported exclusively Wednesday, turtles who usually stay in Jamaica Bay are answering a call of nature. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is tasked with keeping them out of trouble.

As flights take to the air above JFK, the turtles are taking on a more challenging journey below. The diamondback terrapins are looking for a place to lay their eggs.

“So they genereally come out and high tide, and they’re looking for loose, sandy soil to lay their eggs in,” said Laura Francoeur, chief wildlife biologist for the Aviation Department. “And so the airport is a very attractive place for them.”

There is fencing and 4,000 linear feet of black plastic tubing on the ground to keep the expectant moms in Jamaica Bay – their natural habitat – and away from the JFK runways. It is part of the Pot Authority Wildlife Management Program.

Francoeur is chief wildlife biologist for the Aviation Department.

“In 2012, before we had a barrier up, we had about 1,300 terrapins that came onto the airfield, and that was a huge number,” she said. “We’ve cut the number of terrapins down from before we had the terrapin barrier at least 50 percent.”

On Wednesday morning, CBS2 went on a terrapin rescue mission with Francoeur and her team of assistants. Sanchez, Francoeur and the team did not have any trouble finding turtles that breached the barrier.

Each turtle is scanned for transponder tags and marked with nail polish on their shells. New turtles are injected with tags and given a notch on their shell to show what year they were captured.

Afterward, they are released back into their natural habitat.

“There could be turtles walking on the runway and your aircraft might have to stop and have delays, and so we do everything we can so there’s no impact to aircraft traffic or safety,” Francoeur said.

Last Friday, several planes were delayed taking off due to dozens of nesting turtles walking on the runway. But passengers took it in stride, and one person tweeted that it was “the only excuse I have ever found endearing.”

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