Kennedy Airport barrier aims to keep turtles safe

Diamondback terrapin turtles, looking for a place to nest near JFK International Airport, were tagged and relocated by the Port Authority to safely nest away from aircraft where they could have been run over or ingested. (June 12, 2013)

Diamondback terrapin turtles, looking for a place to nest near JFK International Airport, were tagged and relocated by the Port Authority to safely nest away from aircraft where they could have been run over or ingested. (June 12, 2013)

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This will be Kennedy Airport's last turtle-shuttling season if the Port Authority's planned breeding barrier succeeds.

Along a peninsula that juts into Jamaica Bay, 4,000 feet of plastic tubing, 8 inches in diameter, is being laid -- a project due to be completed later this summer.

Diamondback terrapins that swim in from the bay, hunting for sand to lay their eggs, can't scale the tubing, officials said.

Laura Francoeur, the authority's chief biologist, said the turtles have enough nesting places on the periphery of the airport, away from hazardous runways and service roads.

Airport workers used to carry the terrapins to safety by hand. But since 2009, hundreds have arrived every June and July, requiring that they be moved to nesting sites via pickup truck, Francoeur said.

As of Tuesday, 227 terrapins had been trucked; 1,306 got a lift last year.

Over the last two centuries, terrapins, found in marshes on the East and Gulf coasts, were famed as soup ingredients. Long Island's "were considered to be the best-tasting on the market," Russell Burke, a Hofstra University scientist, says on his web site.

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By the 1930s, local terrapins appeared extinct, he said. Their populations have risen since then. But now raccoons pose a threat.

At the airport, the turtles are measured and their shells marked with red nail polish for identification.

"They're not really aggressive at all. They're just trying to get away from us and lay their eggs," Francoeur said.

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