A diamondback terrapin turtle. Photo: Christina Mohrmann/Grand Bay NERR via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / Creative Commons.
The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland and severe winter storms in Europe both snarled air traffic, but it doesn't take a major natural event to ground planes, as some travelers at New York's JFK Airport recently found out: A few dozen turtles can do the trick.'Turtle Crossing' At Airport
On Wednesday morning, about 100 diamondback terrapins "crawled out of the marshes ... and started crossing Runway 4 Left, prompting a shutdown for more than an hour," the Daily Beast reported, noting that the delays while Port Authority specialists relocated the animals were minor because that particular runway is not in frequent use at this time of year. According to the New York Times, which quoted a Port Authority spokesman:
The runway becomes a turtle crossing every year around this time as the terrapins gear up to reproduce. "They look for sandy spots to lay their eggs, and there is an ideal location on the other side of Runway 4L. They come out of the water and cross the runway to lay their eggs in the sand." Wildlife specialists for the Port Authority and the federal Agriculture Department relocated the turtles to an equally nestworthy area on airport property out of harm's way, officials said.
"Wayward wildlife is a serious concern at JFK and nearby LaGuardia Airport, which both sit on shorelines populated by geese, turtles, ducks, frogs, and other animals," the Associated Press reported. The Times noted that the same runway was closed in 2009 by another group of breeding turtles.
'Turtles Were There First!'
Though the incidents have posed only minor inconveniences to travelers, some New York Times readers found them to be a poignant and pleasing reminder of the resilience of nature. "Let's face it, turtles were there first!" one wrote. "Happy, that in this scenario, mankind chose kindness and understanding to resolve the problem of the 'runway' that was built on the turtles' domain."
"There is something gorgeously and absurdly Zen about turtles shutting down a runway," another online commenter wrote. "As we all run around rushing, planning, etc etc etc...the terrapins plod along... multi-ton flying machines made by smart monkeys grinding to a halt while cousins from much further down on the Tree of Life crawl along... Thank you JFK staff for relocating these creatures, who live at a much different pace than us."
More On Turtles
The Plight of North America's Tiniest Turtle
Sea Turtle Haven on Turkey's Mediterranean Coast Threatened By Plan to Build 750 New Holiday Homes
Endangered Turtles Saved from Fishery
180,000 Baby Turtles Released into the Amazon River
Thousands of Endangered Turtles Killed in Madagascar Despite Bans
1/3 of Freshwater Turtle Species Now Face Extinction
Green Turtles Return to Malaysia But Face An Uncertain Future