“In Florida, under Chapter 68A-27 of the Florida Administrative Code, both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law. Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the FWC before capturing and relocating tortoises.”
Entombment is a nasty way to die. On October 9, 2017, the resident gopher tortoises of 1851 San Marco Road were no match for man. Gopher tortoises living on the property were suffocated, crushed, and buried as heavy equipment removed vegetation and graded the soil.
Fact: The City of Marco Island has records of past surveys documenting the gopher tortoise habitat on 1851 San Marco Road for the past 15 years.
Fact: On October 9 & 10, 2017, vegetation debris was removed and soil graded on 1851 San Marco Road using heavy equipment without the issuance of a city permit.
Fact: Marco Island requires a permit for vegetation removal.
Fact: If a property has characteristics of a gopher tortoise habitat, a gopher tortoise survey is required prior to removal of any vegetation. By Florida law, the gopher tortoise survey must be performed by an Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) authorized gopher tortoise agent. Marco Island also has the same requirement.
The lot owner claims that a Community Service Officer (CSO) gave him verbal permission to remove the vegetation from his property as it constituted a “fire hazard.” Every swale in Marco Island constitutes a fire hazard.
Fact: A Marco Island CSO is NOT an authorized gopher tortoise agent and cannot legally give permission to clear debris from any property that is a known gopher tortoise habitat, like 1851 San Marco Road.
Fact: City and state laws protecting gopher tortoises were conveniently ignored resulting in the entombment of gopher tortoises on 1851 San Marco Road.
For cities dealing with budget cuts and natural disaster recovery, enforcement of environmental codes can get pushed down the list of priorities. Law enforcement may lack the time or the funds to properly respond to violations against protected species such as gopher tortoises, burrowing owls or migratory birds.
In Marco Island, development projects provide jobs, rich lot owners pay high taxes and they have friends in high places. Protected species, like gopher tortoises and burrowing owls, fall at the bottom of this hierarchy and tend to be collateral damage in the conflict between developers and the environment. Protected species also have fewer friends in high places. They rely on the watchful eye of average citizens for their advocacy.
Please save the gopher tortoises in Marco Island from a fast track to extinction. If you suspect a violation at a vacant lot with gopher tortoises or burrowing owls, please immediately call: FWC at: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). See something, do something.