Environmental Initiatives

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Some initiatives enhance facilities across the Port Authority, like our programs that address climate change, air quality, coastal ecosystems and energy. Others are focused on our facilities, like airports, the PATH, bridges and tunnels, ports and real estate.

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Little known fact: in July 2009, flights at Kennedy International Airport were delayed when a long line of diamondback terrapin turtles left the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, entered airport grounds, and marched (very slowly) across Runway 4L.

A similar incident happened in 2011. And another in late June of 2014. What was behind these strange parades?

Here’s what we know:

Thousands of terrapins live in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and many more build colonies along the shores of Jamaica Bay. During their primary nesting season, which typically falls in June, the shellbacks lay their eggs in sand. To do this, many will crawl across Runway 4L, whose marshy edge touches that of Jamaica Bay.

And herein lies the problem, of course. The turtles’ migration threatens their safety, but also the safety of airline passengers and equipment.

“Anything can be a hazard to aircraft,” said Laura Francoeur, chief wildlife biologist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “Keeping terrapins off [the Runways] saves the terrapins so they don’t get run over potentially, and it also helps eliminate any operational impacts delaying flights at the airport.”

Ms. Francoeur leads a team that captures terrapins attempting to cross the tarmac. Turtles found ready to lay their eggs are released to nesting grounds beyond a protective fence. The turtles that aren’t ready to nest undergo a brief study to determine their age and before being tagged, returned to the wild, and tracked.
Last year, more than 400 terrapins were captured and released. This year, Ms. Francoeur’s team has assisted¬† less than half that number. The Port Authority’s implementation of a black corrugated plastic barrier along the Runway’s edge has likely lowered the number of interventions.

Saving the diamondback terrapin turtle is just one more way The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey invests in a sustainable environment for our region.

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For older updates on initiatives, visit our archive.

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