Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Protecting Marco’s Gopher Tortoises



Gopher tortoises are Marco’s oldest residents. | Photos by Jim Robellard

Gopher tortoises (gopherus polyphemus) are the oldest residents of Marco Island.

There is a large population of gopher tortoises located in the Estates area on Inlet, Caxambas Drive, Watson, Ludlow Copeland and South Barfield.

Tortoises have been around for millions of years. But here in Marco Island, gopher tortoises are no match for speeding cars, drastic loss of habitat due to rapid home construction, unethical lot clearings that entomb these gentle resident tortoises, and the lack of code enforcement designed for their protection. These all point to their uncertain future. Every single tortoise is very important.

Rachel King, South Region Gopher Tortoise Conservation Biologist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently spoke before Marco Island’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee (BACR) on Marco’s gopher tortoise population.

After the presentation, Ms. King visited known habitat of gopher tortoises. She was accompanied by concerned residents, a member of the BACR and an FWC Law Enforcement agent. Ms. King was very familiar with the history the sites she visited.

In Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as a State Threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already added the gopher tortoise to the candidate list for the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Can 21st century technology save Marco’s gopher tortoise?

The FWC website has a free app for the gopher tortoise, which was released to the public in 2014. It is a way to get citizens involved in gopher tortoise conservation. Photos are submitted and reviewed by biologists, and posted on their interactive map. They believe this is the only way to get reliable data. This app is available for both the android and Apple phones.

To celebrate Gopher Tortoise Day for April 2018, we are urging every resident of Marco Island to download the Free Gopher Tortoise App available at www.myfwc.com.

April 10th is recognized as Gopher Tortoise Day in Florida. The Gopher Tortoise Council in conjunction with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission created Gopher Tortoise Day as a means of increasing awareness, and as well as an appreciation for the reptiles. Last year, Marco Island City Council issued a proclamation declaring April 10th as a Gopher Tortoise Day.

How Can You Help?

If you see a gopher tortoise crossing the road, FWC suggest you could help by picking it up and placing it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. Quick reminder: gopher tortoises are land animals, so do not place them in the water.

If you discover an injured gopher tortoise on the roadside, please call the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Clinic at 239-262-CARE (2273). And if you’ve downloaded the Gopher Tortoise App, please take a photo and send it in. FWC is collecting mortality data for the gopher tortoises.

If you suspect that a lot is being cleared that has a posted gopher tortoise sign or is a known habitat for gophers, call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922. A permit is required from FWC if either a gopher tortoise or their burrows are present on the development site.

Note to builders: Once a building plan is created and ready to submit, and if the property has gopher tortoise habitat, the City of Marco Island requires an environmental survey.

One response to “Protecting Marco’s Gopher Tortoises”

  1. Anon says:

    The FWC Wildlife Violations Hotline is actually 1-888-404-3922

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