Sea turtles appear next to Rio airport thanks to fewer flights amid pandemic

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Sea turtles have been spotted swimming amid garbage next to an airport in Brazil’s tourist hotspot of Rio de Janeiro, as the scream of jet engines that would normally keep them away has been largely silenced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Animals are increasingly entering areas normally populated by humans, as people shelter indoors to contain the spread of the disease, from rare snow leopards sightings near a city in Kazakhstan to wild pigs roaming the streets in Israel.

A Reuters videographer spotted at least four turtles swimming not far from a runway at Rio’s Santos Dumont airport on Tuesday.

“(The quarantine) made it possible for these animals to appear in places where they are not normally seen,” said Mario Moscatelli, a Rio-based biologist and consultant for environmental recovery projects.

Moscatelli said it’s not unusual for sea turtles to enter the bay, but with fewer people, boats and planes taking off, they are now being seen in places they wouldn’t be normally.

Brazil’s air carriers have canceled more than 90% of their flights since the coronavirus lockdowns began. Usually one of Brazil’s five busiest airports and known for its stunning views of the Rio bay on arrival, Santos Dumont now has fewer than 15 departures per day.

But animals that venture into human areas are still at risk, as water next to the airport is filled with waste.

“These beautiful animals end up confusing plastic garbage with food. That can lead to death as the plastic material obstructs the digestive tract,” Moscatelli said.

Reporting and photo: Reuters

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