Turtle takeover at JFK Airport spawns online sensation

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A bale of turtles may have caused only minor delays at John F. Kennedy International Airport last week, but their show of power on the tarmac is becoming something of a legend on the Internet.

More than 150 diamondback terrapin turtles made their way from Jamaica Bay to runway 4L starting around 6:45 a.m. June 29 and were all over the tarmac by the middle of the morning, Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico said.

The turtles lay their eggs in a sandy beach area on the opposite side of the runway and Wednesday was the day the future parents decided to make their trek to the beach beyond.

“This usually happens once a year,” Marsico said.

PA officers and animal control experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture rounded up the turtles, put them in the back of pickup trucks and transported them safely to the beach area, the spokesman said.

There were no serious flight delays caused by the migrating bale, with the longest flight disruption lasting only half an hour, according to Marsico. The slight delays did not stop some of the airlines from poking fun at the situation on Twitter.

JetBlue used the hashtag “#cantmaket­hisup” following its tweet, “JFK is experiencing delays as the airport clears turtles off the runway,” which was posted around 10 a.m.

Later an account was set up with the profile name JFKTurtles, similar to the one that was “created” by the fugitive Bronx zoo cobra.

The Twitter description gives a tongue-in-cheek warning to the borough’s other airport: “The Port Authority can’t contain us. Watch out La Guardia (sic).”

“We go straight to the runway because it takes 5 hours to get out of our shells for the TSA,” they tweeted a few hours after the incident.

As of Friday, the account had more than 8,000 followers.

Despite the popularity, the turtles’ online alter ego will not be making anymore one-liners in the near future. Noah Chestnut, who created the account, said he would be taking a break from updating the tweets because the incident is already getting old.

The 26-year-old, who works as the director of digital media at the Washington, D.C.-based consulting group Hamilton Place Strategies, said he created the account on a dare from co-workers to top the Bronx Zoo Cobra Twitter and he took up the challenge.

“It was a ton of fun. I wound up making up some corny jokes and went from there,” he said in a phone interview with TimesLedger Newspapers.

Unlike the cobra, who was “tweeting” while on the loose for a week, the JFK turtles were already taken off the runway by the time the account was started and Chestnut, who has never set foot at JFK Airport, said he, too, was moving on.

“I don’t think I can keep it organic and fresh,” he said.

Nearly two years ago, 78 diamondback terrapins shut down the same runway as they migrated to the beach. In that instance, several planes had to be diverted to avoid the reptiles, but two were killed on the runway.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 11:09 am, October 12, 2011
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