Gopher Tortoise Day was adopted by the State in 2016 as a day of appreciation and to encourage the public to conserve this threatened species. On April 5, the City Council declared April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day. Council Chair, Jared Grifoni, read the proclamation which read in part “gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and the proclamation encourages all citizens to protect this species by doing and learning more about them.”
Lori Beall, Program Director of the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) accepted the proclamation and thanked the City’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee for supporting the gopher tortoise residential survey program. She added that AWE also monitors the burrowing owls through Owl Watch Marco so adding the gopher tortoises was a natural move.
Brittany Piersma, AWE’s field biologist for the gopher tortoise program, gave a brief update. According to Piersma, she has surveyed 117 properties and counted 1147 gopher tortoise burrows. She has an additional 80-plus properties to go from the City’s approved list. With the help of volunteers, Piersma will continue to count gopher tortoise burrows and educate the public about the threatened species living next door to them.
Volunteers assist Piersma with surveying the lots for gopher tortoises and burrows and sometimes this consists of crawling and climbing through dense vegetation. They measure, flag, and take notes on each burrow found. Many larger lots can take up to four hours, so volunteers are greatly appreciated. According to Piersma, usually residents living nearby stop and ask them questions about the study. This could sometimes lead to them giving permission to survey their property.
According to Beall of AWE, they plan to put together a comprehensive land study with data gathered from the survey which they are going to share with the City of Marco Island.
In Marco, the survey has attracted the attention of many property owners. More recently, Douglas Meester purchased his next-door vacant lot and turned it into a gopher tortoise sanctuary. Meester is planning to add gopher tortoise friendly vegetation as part of his conservation plans. Brian McLaren, another Marco resident, also converted his property to be more gopher friendly.
Gopher tortoises are found in two residential neighborhoods in Marco Island. Larger populations are found in sections of the Estates, Key Marco, and a smaller population on a section of Spinnaker Drive and the west side of Hideaway Beach.
If you have gopher tortoises on your property, we encourage you to join the survey program and contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate your interest.
Also, if you would like to join the survey team, please send an email to the above address expressing your interest. For college and high school students, this is a great way to collect your community service hours and learn about the conservation of gopher tortoises on Marco Island.
A big thank you to AWE’s gopher tortoise team for a very successful celebration of all things about gopher tortoises on Saturday, April 10, complete with arts and crafts for the children and live tortoises! The Naples Native Plant Society also had a table display of native plants for sale.
New this year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites all homeowners to play a critical role in conserving gopher tortoises with a Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program. FWC will recognize private landowners who participate in the program with a sign on their property along with a certificate. If interested fill out the form at: www.myfwc.com/gophertortoise.com.
Residents can help by adding tortoise-friendly plants that it can eat. They have a very varied diet including grasses, flowering weeds such as Mexican Clover (Marco Snow) and low-growing fruits or berries. And it is recommended that as you plant a native variety, you also remove invasive exotic plants.
I have already sent in my application for the FWC Friendly Yard Recognition Program. I have planted vegetation that gophers like to eat such as dune sunflowers, gaillardia or blanket flower and do NOT use any herbicides or pesticides in an effort to protect pollinators, owls, visiting wildlife and gopher tortoises.