Happy Gopher Tortoise Day!

News Release – For Immediate Release
April 10, 2023
City of Sanibel, FL
Contact: Natural Resources Department (239) 472-3700

April 10, 2023

In 2016, the Gopher Tortoise Council adopted April 10th as Gopher Tortoise Day in Florida in order to increase awareness and appreciation for this protected species. The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species (a species on which other animals within an ecosystem largely depend on) and is an important indicator of ecosystem health. Gopher tortoise burrows are home to more than 360 other species of wildlife, some of which would not exist without gopher tortoises. Unfortunately, due to obstacles, such as habitat loss, disease, and poaching, gopher tortoise populations have declined an estimated 60-80 percent in the last century. Because of this, the gopher tortoise is listed as threatened species and is protected by the state of Florida.
On September 28, 2022, the island’s gopher tortoises, their burrows, and their habitats were significantly impacted by Hurricane Ian, the full extent of which remains unknown. Prior to Hurricane Ian, Sanibel Island sustained a sizeable population of gopher tortoises, which inhabited conservation lands, residential neighborhoods, and commercial properties. In areas where gopher tortoises habitat was damaged or destroyed by saltwater intrusion and hurricane debris, tortoises may seek new areas on the Island to establish new burrows and home ranges.In accordance with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Gopher Tortoise Management Plan guidelines, the City requires that all Development Permit applications include the following: identification and location of wildlife habitats of gopher tortoises and their burrows; a plan to preserve gopher tortoise habitat in perpetuity or to mitigate for unavoidable impacts; verification that gopher tortoises have been protected on the site or have been removed from the proposed area of construction by a State authorized gopher tortoise agent according to a plan approved by the City and State.Due to the upland habitat requirements of the gopher tortoise and potential conflicts with human development activities, gopher tortoises and their habitats on Sanibel have been afforded additional protections. Therefore, the City of Sanibel recognizes that maintaining healthy populations of gopher tortoises is essential to sustaining Sanibel’s ecology and sanctuary characteristics. On April 12th, 2023, City Council will issue a proclamation designating April 10th as Gopher Tortoise Day on Sanibel.The recovery of gopher tortoise populations and their habitats will require a continued commitment by the citizens of Sanibel. You can show your appreciation and help ensure the long-term recovery of gopher tortoises on Sanibel by creating a “tortoise friendly landscape”, including a diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Also, residents are encouraged to keep a watchful eye for gopher tortoises while traveling across Sanibel by vehicle, cycle, or on foot. If you see a gopher tortoise crossing a road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the direction it was heading, but only if it is safe for you to do so.
Please join us in celebrating Gopher Tortoise Day!  Spread of the word on the importance of conserving and protecting this important keystone species on our sanctuary island. 
For more information regarding gopher tortoises on Sanibel view the City’s Gopher tortoise brochure, visit the City’s informational webpage about gopher tortoises, or contact the City of Sanibel’s Natural Resources Department (joel.caouette@mysanibel.com).

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