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Monday Reads: The JFK Turtle Invasion Edition

Here at Monday Reads, we’ve followed the jellyfish typhoon invasion, gardening goat invasion, and wolverine invasion-of-one. Finally, we’ve reached the turtle invasion.

A few weeks ago, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport awoke to find its Runway 4L under siege by waves of relentless reptiles. The Associated Press reported that the “slow-motion stampede” rather conveniently got underway just as the morning rush of travelers was trying to get airborne. The onslaught soon swelled to a crescendo of more than 150 diamondback terrapin turtles, plodding determinedly through treacherous territory. Where were they going, that they would risk shell and limb? Let’s just say teens on Spring Break aren’t the only ones who like to get frisky on sandy beaches.

Kennedy Airport is surrounded by marshes and wetland; neighboring Jamaica Bay itself is home to a large number of these near-threatened turtles, who were once nearly eaten (by us) into extinction. Yonder over Runway 4L, the turtles could see nesting paradise. As WNYC explained:

Biologist Roger Wood said … the slight elevation of the airport offered protection for their eggs. “ … the surface that the runway's on are all above high tide, so it was slightly elevated above the marshes where the terrapins live, and they have to dig their nest in areas that won't get flooded."

Fortunately, unlike some other unexpected airspace guests (oh, say, Canadian geese, for example), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey came down on the intrepid turtles with a gentle hand. As airline pilots taxi-ing down the runway reported sightings of the tiny creatures (spotting 8 tiny inches of turtle all the way from the cockpit!), groundcrews were dispatched to pick up the errant reptiles … and they kept on getting dispatched, until their backseat started looking like this:

The turtle invaders hitch a ride with groundcrews. (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

The pilots took the unexpected developments in stride. As delays go, you can’t get much more heartwarming than plane-full of passengers patiently yielding the right of way to turtles on their way to make baby turtles.

ABC News compiled some gems of chatter between air traffic controllers and pilots, as they tried to keep track of the unfolding invasion:

Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority, good-naturedly told AP, “We ceded to Mother Nature … We are trying to help wildlife out a bit here. We built on the area where they were nesting for generations, so we feel incumbent to help them along the way.” Ground crews gave the turtles a lift across the runway so they could continue on their way, unsquashed.

Now, if only the National Marine Fisheries Service and longliners in the Gulf of Mexico could come along to this line of thinking. Loggerhead turtles are being decimated by the miles of hooks that are intended to catch grouper and tilefish, but indiscriminately rake through loggerheads as well. On the long journey to secure adequate protections, the loggerheads gained an important victory last week, when a Florida judge sided with Earthjustice and our clients, agreeing that NMFS needed to take into account the impact of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill when considering management of the longline fishery.

Hopefully, these sea turtles will encounter a few more helping hands along the way, just like their terrestrial brethren.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.