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Photo: Jenny Mastanuono/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Jenny Mastanuono/Wikimedia Commons
Signs point to the turtle population of New York bouncing back after years of steady decline

After years of population decline, the turtles are making a comeback in a rather interesting way.

JFK airport in Queens is one of the busiest airports in the world. Every year, tens of millions of passengers go through this airport. This year, however, JFK was visited by some unique travelers. In recent weeks, hundreds of diamondback terrapin turtles have crossed the various runways in order to lay their eggs in the sandy dunes that line the outskirts of the tarmac.

According to officials, close to 400 terrapins have been spotted crossing the busy runways so far in this year’s migration cycle. This has been happening annually in recent years. So frequently, in fact, that the Port Authority had to install barriers along the airport’s perimeter in order to keep the turtles out of harm’s way. This year’s migration cycle has seen a rather big jump in the size of the migration, which is very good for the turtles but not so good for JFK and the airlines it hosts.

The diamondback terrapin population has been on a steady decline since the turn of the 20th century. They were captured with disregard for population maintenance and made into gourmet turtle soup, which at the time was a delicacy on par with caviar. Their numbers continued to decrease due to real-estate development along the coastal marshlands of the east, which is the terrapin’s habitat.

This has prompted many states along the Eastern Seaboard, excluding New York, to give the turtles a protective status. New York is doing its part though. DNAinfo reports that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns several hundred acres of wetlands in the tristate area, has injected more than $120 million since 2002 to preserve the wetlands’ wildlife.

Fortunately this mass migration has done little in terms of flight delays. JetBlue lauded the Port Authority, saying that they are doing a “bang-up job” in helping to keep delays to an absolute minimum.

In the past terrapins were not able to reproduce at a fast enough rate to replenish their numbers. But now, as evidenced by the record numbers of migrating turtles, the terrapins might be making a comeback. Hundreds of terrapins have so far survived their journey and by Labor Day Weekend, hundreds more will make their way back.

 

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