NEW YORK — About 150 turtles crawled onto the tarmac at New York’s JFK airport yesterday in search of beaches to lay their eggs, delaying dozens of flights, aviation authorities said.
The slow-motion stampede began about 6:45 a.m., and within three hours there were so many turtles on Runway 4L and nearby taxiways that controllers were forced to move departing flights to another runway.
“We ceded to Mother Nature,’’ said Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport. Workers from the Port Authority and the US Department of Agriculture were scooping up turtles and moving them across the airport, he said. Flight delays averaged about 30 minutes, the FAA said.
The migration of diamondback terrapin turtles happens every year at Kennedy, which is built on the edge of Jamaica Bay and a federally protected park. In late June or early July the animals heave themselves out of the bay and head toward a beach to lay their eggs.
Several pilots began reporting turtles on Runway 4L just as the morning rush hour was beginning at JFK, according to a radio recording on LiveATC.net.
“Be advised 30 feet into the takeoff roll, left side of the centerline, there’s another turtle,’’ said one pilot.
Female diamondback terrapins can grow up to 9 inches long and weigh up to three pounds.
The main concern is for the turtles, Marsico said. He said crews were giving the turtles rides on pickup trucks to the nesting beaches.
“We built on the area where they were nesting for generations, so we feel incumbent to help them along the way,’’ he said.