JFK International Airport: Terrapin Adventures on Runway 4L

By Jessica Hershman, Media Relations Staff

Even as Port Authority Wildlife Biologist Laura Francoeur and members of her team mark and then release to safety hundreds of Diamondback Terrapins that invade the runways at JFK Airport annually, nobody is sure exactly why they come. The answer defies easy explanation.


Biologists such as Francoeur and her assistant, Melissa Zostant, a Hofstra University Master’s candidate writing her thesis on why the turtles prefer JFK, believe the likely reason the turtles come ashore from Jamaica Bay is because of the sandy soil, which is above the high tide line.

“The original airport planners never could have imagined that all the sandy fill they put down would one day become the perfect nesting habitat for terrapins,” Francoeur said.


“I think the terrapins also are attracted to Joco Marsh and the area surrounding the airport for the food and habitat provided.  They then nest at JFK since that’s the closest land that appears to have good nesting habitat – sandy, loose soil,” she said.

“The marsh around JFK is healthier than other marshes in the area too, which provides an ideal source of food,” said Zostant. “The turtles may prefer JFK because the fencing around the airfield keeps out raccoons, who prey on hatchlings and eggs.”  Once ashore, females use their powerful back legs to dig a hole, dropping their huddle of eggs into the hole, and then covering it up. The nests are then tagged and an enclosure is constructed to protect the eggs, leaving a small opening through which the hatchlings can escape.


In 2012, JFK personnel constructed a barrier from plastic piping to keep out the terrapins along much of Runway 4L, because the dozens of turtles crossing the runway were causing flight delays. The number of turtles on the airfield has gone down dramatically since fencing was installed.

If turtles get past the barrier, the Port Authority wildlife team capture the animals manually and place them in the beds of JFK trucks before inserting microchips beneath their skin. Through this method, a turtle is assigned a number that is recorded each time the turtle is captured.  The microchip does not have GPS capability, however, and cannot track the movement of the terrapins.

The animal is marked with a single, triangle-shaped notch. Each year the notch is placed in a different location, but the terrapin only receives one notch over its lifetime, the first year it is captured.  The marking provides scientists with information about the year the terrapin was first collected, and it also provides a visual aid to know whether a terrapin has been collected previously.


According to the Port Authority, 501 terrapins have been processed in 2016 to date. Since the terrapin program began in 2011, a total of 2,266 new terrapins have been processed.

Terrapins have green and yellow rings on their shells, which are encircled by actual ridges that are counted to estimate the age of the animal similar to the rings encircling a tree trunk. To assist in the counting of a turtle’s rings, a concoction of acids, salts and brown seaweed is applied to the turtle’s shell, creating a casting of the shell in much the same way a dentist creates a dental impression of his patient’s mouth.  The turtle is then returned to the wild.


Many of the terrapins at JFK are between seven and nine years old, which makes them younger than at other locations on Jamaica Bay, but a significant number of the terrapins are much older.

“It’s unclear whether the terrapins recognize the aircraft and vehicles as predators, but if they have previously nested successfully at the airport, that predator interaction is one from which they were able to return alive so they repeat it and it doesn’t pose a deterrent to them,” said Francoeur.

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Port Authority: How to Speak Like a Native

By Port Authority Media Relations Staff

Take the George or the Martha past the Necklace, that’ll get you across the GWB. Heading through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Sputnik, keep an eye out for the Toothbrush.

Simple, right? Only if you speak Port Authority.

Every institution has its own language peculiarities, and the Port Authority is no exception. So, as a public service, here’s a short tutorial of nicknames commonly used throughout the agency. Origins and meanings to some will seem obvious; others have been lost to time and obscurity.

The Necklace – This refers to the 156 lights that adorn the George Washington Bridge cables, which can change in color to reflect special occasions – green for Girl Scouts Centennial Celebration recently, for instance, or pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

AThe George – Upper level of the GWB.

The Martha – Lower level of the GWB.

Toothbrush – A favorite of seasoned bridge and tunnel veterans, this is what they call the truck that is used to scrub the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. The Toothbrush is so named because it literally scrubs clean all of the tunnels’ white tiles with soap and water.


Sputnik – Back in 1957, about the same time the Russian satellite was orbiting the earth, the Port Authority created the first counter-flow bus lane on 42nd Street and Dyer Ave to improve travel times of outbound buses leaving the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Lots of things have changed over the years, but two certainties remain — counter-flow lanes keep the traffic moving, and Sputnik is a weird nickname for a counter-flow lane.

T-Rex – Left to its own devices, the Port of New York & New Jersey would silt up like the glass bulb of an hourglass, leaving cargo and cruise ships unable to navigate the harbor to other ports. To maintain adequate channel depth, a variety of dredging tools are used, but none more impressive than one of the biggest and most bodacious barge-mounted dredges in the world – T-Rex, with metallic teeth capable of biting down to 65 feet.

Donkey Trail – Initially a dirt road at Newark Liberty International Airport created as a short cut from a restricted service road on-to the aircraft movement area. Over the years, it’s been paved and now has the appropriate signage, but it’s never lost the original name.

Doghouse – This term described the 4-5 stories of temporary steel built by ironworkers at One World Trade Center, which allowed them and the construction cranes to work above the roof of One WTC.

Housetops – From our friends at PATH: the manufactured manganese plates that serve as a guard rail in a rail switch. These help guide the train wheels through the track switch while also protecting the opposite switch point.

Dogbones –Another from the world of PATH: The mechanical fasteners used to join two long concrete timbers in construction that would normally be too large to handle as one. One of those nicknames that seems a more natural – and much easier – way to describe this useful tool.

Sheep Run – This expression can be heard among the ground crew in and around airport terminals. It was coined by airline pilots to distinguish between themselves and the “Sheep Run,” the General Aviation area for private planes at an airport.


General aviation area








Posted in George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Hudson tunnels, John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Lincoln Tunnel, Newark Liberty International Airport, NY/NJ region, One World Trade Center, PANYNJ, PATH, PONYNJ, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Port of New York & New Jersey, Uncategorized, World Trade Center, World Trade Center Transportation Oculus, WTC | Tagged , ,

PONYNJ and the Panama Canal

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett

A week ago, the MOL Benefactor, the mega-sized container ship from China, berthed successfully at the Global Container Terminal in Bayonne, N.J. The Benefactor was the largest vessel ever to call upon the largest port on the East Coast – the Port of New York & New Jersey (PONYNJ).  Only a week earlier on July 2, the MOL Benefactor had passed through the recently expanded Panama Canal on its way to PONYNJ.


MOL Benefactor

The Panama Canal is a strategically located 48-mile waterway between Costa Rica to the east and Colombia to the west connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The capacity of the 102-year-old canal has doubled by adding a wider and deeper lane to accommodate larger ships carrying three times the number of containers from Asia to the Eastern and Gulf coasts for less money.

“The Panama Expansion Project coupled with the significant infrastructure investments made by the Port Authority and our container terminal operators allow bigger ships to call the PONYNJ,” said Bethann Rooney, assistant director, Port Performance Initiatives, Port Authority.


Bethann Rooney, assistant director Port Performance Initiatives and MOL Benefactor Captain Markany Mankkalesmann

After more than a century, the Panama Canal is still considered one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time. This expansion potentially could create yet another sea change in global shipping, rivaling the cost savings of containerization itself.

France began construction of the canal in 1880, but the project wouldn’t be completed until the United States took control in 1904, finishing it 10 years later. The massive undertaking claimed 30,609 souls.

Twin Tracks Loaded with Earth Removed from Panama Canal Bed

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1908: Twin Tracks Loaded with Earth Removed from Panama Canal Bed; Steam Shovels Operate to Load Rocks Blasted away to build the Thoroughfare (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French developer in charge of the project, had successfully built the Suez Canal, but the Panama project proved to be his undoing. Under Lesseps’s leadership, the project consumed $260 million without coming to completion, triggering a scandal that led eventually to convictions of fraud and conspiracy. Lesseps died a broken man.

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1901, most of the world saw the unfinished Panama Canal as a poisonous sinkhole: a disease-ridden jungle of yellow fever, malaria, corruption and the site of 20,000 deaths of workers, who were mostly West Indians.

Yet Roosevelt knew the Panama Canal was the most direct path to America’s greatness. To gain control of the Canal Zone, Roosevelt persuaded Panama to declare its independence from Colombia under the protection of the United States.  On November 3, 1903, rebel soldiers seized the isthmus and the revolution was over by sundown.  A foreign-born shopkeeper and a donkey were the only casualties.

Three Chief Engineers worked on the canal project before its completion: John Wallace, 1904-05; John Stevens, 1905-07 and Colonel George Washington Goethals, 1907-1914.  Goethals, for whom the Goethals Bridge is named, earned the nickname “the Genius of the Panama Canal” for seeing the canal through to its completion.  But Goethals often said Stevens was the real genius because he recognized the project couldn’t be done without first solving the problems of excavation. Stevens ordered all digging to stop while more railroad track was laid until the railroad functioned as a giant conveyor belt, carrying away dynamited rock and other construction debris.

The US overcame the regular flooding of the construction site from the Chagres River during rainy seasons with a temporary dike constructed upstream to capture the floodwaters. A larger, permanent dam was constructed at the mouth of the Chagres, which produced Gatun Lake, with a surface elevation of approximately 85 feet. The captured water flowed into a series of locks that lifted vessels up to the level of the lake, the system still in use today.

The expanded lock system makes PONYNJ a particularly attractive port of call for super-sized ships like Benefactor. In the competition for discretionary cargo, which shippers intend not for local consumption, but to reach destinations hundreds of miles away, PONYNJ is well-positioned because of its investments in waterside and landslide infrastructure.

“With reduced transit times and shipping costs, the PONYNJ becomes more competitive and the better choice for discretionary cargo, particularly those goods destined for the Mid-West,” said Rooney.


Expansion of the Panama Canal

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