Sunday, February 25, 2018

Preventable Deaths for Gopher Tortoises


The tortoise and its burrow are protected by Florida law. Property owners must obtain a permit from FWC before relocating tortoises, which is required prior to land clearing. Photo by Jean Hall

The tortoise and its burrow are protected by Florida law. Property owners must obtain a permit from FWC before relocating tortoises, which is required prior to land clearing. Photo by Jean Hall

In early November, a mature female gopher tortoise was crossing the street at the intersection of Olds and Inlet in the Estates section of Marco Island. It was a fatal car hit and the speeding driver did not slow down to call for assistance.

This is NOT the first time that gopher tortoises have suffered at human hands in Marco Island. There are many more vehicular fatalities that go unreported even with the posted 30 mph speed limit and Gopher Tortoise Crossing sign.

Gopher tortoise deaths due to vehicular strikes are frequent in the Estates. A slower speed limit in known gopher tortoise habitat may help reduce fatalities. Photos by Maria Lamb

Gopher tortoise deaths due to vehicular strikes are frequent in the Estates. A slower speed limit in known gopher tortoise habitat may help reduce fatalities. Photos by Maria Lamb

The declining gopher tortoise population in Marco Island means that every single tortoise is very important to the species’ future. Typically for every 100 eggs a female lays, only a few will live to adulthood. On Marco Island their survival rate is likely less.

Gopher tortoises are the oldest residents of Marco Island. They have been around for millions of years. They have survived many climactic changes to our planet but here in Marco, they are no match for the speeding cars and drastic loss of habitat due to rapid home construction. The future of Marco’s gopher tortoises is certainly in question.

This injured gopher tortoise, with its shell cracked and eggs scattered, was taken to the Conservancy of SW Florida Von Arx Wildlife Clinic, where it was euthanized.

This injured gopher tortoise, with its shell cracked and eggs scattered, was taken to the Conservancy of SW Florida Von Arx Wildlife Clinic, where it was euthanized.

After a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma, city funds are allocated to disaster recovery and staffing. Enforcement and environmental code compliance may get pushed down the list of priorities. Though Marco Island has a Protected Species Ordinance protecting the gopher tortoises, law enforcement may lack the staff, funds or time to properly enforce or respond to violations against protected species such as gopher tortoises and burrowing owls. For survival, Marco Island’s gopher tortoises rely heavily on the watchful eyes of average citizens for their protection. See Something, Do Something

Sample of a cleared and graded lot. If a property has the characteristics of a gopher habitat, a gopher tortoise survey is required prior to removal of any vegetation. Under state and local laws, a gopher tortoise survey must be performed by an FWC authorized tortoise agent.

Sample of a cleared and graded lot. If a property has the characteristics of a gopher habitat, a gopher tortoise survey is required prior to removal of any vegetation. Under state and local laws, a gopher tortoise survey must be performed by an FWC authorized tortoise agent.

You can help save the gopher tortoises of Marco Island. If you see something, do something.

An example of a possible violation: A lot is being cleared that has a posted gopher tortoise sign or is a known habitat for gophers. A permit is required from FWC if either a gopher or their burrows are present on the development site.

If you observe a possible violation, please call Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) non-emergency number, 239-389-5050. Call Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

(FWC) at 1-888-404-3933. If you discover an injured gopher tortoise, please call the Conservancy of SW Florida Wildlife Clinic at 239-262-CARE (2273).

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