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Mating turtles shut down runway at JFK

By Jordana Ossad, CNN
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Turtles block NYC airport runway
  • Trying to access best mating grounds, more than 150 turtles cross over active runway
  • It's unclear how many flights were delayed; FAA hopes to have number by day's end
  • JFK International Airport is surrounded by a bay and wetlands
  • Amorous turtles also crowded onto a runway in 2009

(CNN) -- Love is in the air at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. More than 150 turtles crossed over an active runway and disrupted air traffic on Wednesday so that they could continue their mating season.

The diamondback terrapins were trying to get to an ideal location to lay their eggs. That's a sandy area that happens to be across Runway 4, according to Carol Bannerman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The turtles were primarily female, and the fertilization of their eggs occurs in the water, she said.

JFK is surrounded by a bay and wetland areas.

The first turtle was spotted at 6:45 a.m. and a short time afterward, Port Authority staff was dispatched and the U.S. Department of Agriculture assisted, according to Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico.

"This happens every year," Marsico said. "I guess some years there is more turtle activity."

After a turtle was spotted, it was picked up and moved to a better destination to continue nesting, Bannerman said.

People began tweeting about the turtles soon after the news broke. Within 8 hours, @JFKTurtles had almost 3,000 followers on Twitter, even from airline accounts like Jet Blue who had this to say:

"Oh @JFKTurtles, we could never stay mad at you ... Glad you made it to your honey moon spot safe."

It is unclear how many flights were delayed by the breeding turtles, but the FAA should know by the end of the day, according to FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. This runway is used infrequently during the summer because of weather conditions, Salac said.

This is not the first time turtles have invaded the runways at JFK. Seventy-eight turtles emerged one day in 2009, according to Marsico.