Sunday, September 27, 2020

Gopher Tortoises in Distress

A gopher tortoise is no match to this heavy pile driver. Photos by Maria Lamb

A gopher tortoise is no match to this heavy pile driver. Photos by Maria Lamb

By Maria Lamb  

The construction of an 8-foot wide sidewalk along the 1.1 miles on South Barfield Drive from San Marco Road south to Inlet Drive is in progress. The portion from South Barfield turning east to Inlet is a section of the Estates area with a very high population of gopher tortoises.

These are the lucky ones!

Credit the efforts of a local resident who called a local FWC agent regarding protecting the gopher tortoises along Inlet Drive before the sidewalk construction.

As a result, Chadd Chustz, Environmentalist for the City of Marco Island has been working with Dr. Matt Finn, an FWC authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent, in relocating the gopher tortoises whose burrows are impacted by the sidewalk construction.

Fast Lane to extinction

Developers of multi-million home sites in Marco Island consider the presence of protected species an “expensive annoyance.” There are about 12+ active construction sites in the Estates Area.

Reaching out to a

Construction of an 8-foot wide sidewalk from South Barfield turning east to Inlet Drive.

Construction of an 8-foot wide sidewalk from South Barfield turning east to Inlet Drive.

member of City Council for comment, regarding some type of Standard Operating Procedure on protected species, Councilor Amadeo Petricca has this to say, “Regarding construction sites, there is no written procedure as to how an environmental inspection is performed, other than a review of the site plan before a permit is issued by each department. There is no documentation that the environmental specialist physically visit a site and clear it for construction to commence”. We have an ordinance to protect these species, and it must be strictly enforced.”

Sadly, not even the presence of Federal, State and City ordinances guarantee the gopher tortoises protection during Marco’s construction boom. Development vs. Environment? Can the gopher tortoise survive?

At any given day, gopher tortoises in the Estates area graze lazily on green grass. They may cross the street for better opportunities. The construction boom in Marco Island has contributed to many unreported tortoise kills, their

Mature Gopher Tortoise  munching on “Marco Snow.” Photo by Jean Hall

Mature Gopher Tortoise munching on “Marco Snow.” Photo by Jean Hall

mangled carcasses left on the roadside to dry out. Many of them have been “entombed” on numerous construction sites when the proper environmental oversight was not performed.

Who is looking out for the protected species on Marco Island?

Jean Hall of the Owl Watch Program is concerned after learning of the sidewalk project since burrowing owls often take over vacant gopher tortoise burrows. “Burrowing owls and gopher tortoises are part of the magic of Marco Island and it is important for us to share this island with them,” Hall remarked.

How can you help? If you encounter a tortoise trying to cross the road, it is best to simply carry the tortoise across the road in the direction it was going, BUT DO SO SAFELY.

• Report any violation to FWC at: 1-888-404-3922 or

• Call Marco Island’s MIPD’s non-emergency number at: 239-389-5050.

• If you see an injured tortoise, please call the Conservancy of

SW Florida Wildlife Clinic at: 239-262 CARE (2273).

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