No person shall take, attempt to take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport a gopher tortoise or parts thereof, their eggs, molest, damage or destroy their burrow except by permit from Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The month of March has been devastating for gopher tortoises in Marco Island. There were five gopher tortoises reported killed in March in an area that is highly populated by gopher tortoises. The gopher tortoise can live to be over 50 years old, but do not reproduce till they are 15-20 years old. The current generation is aging, and they are not being replaced by younger ones quickly enough.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already added the gopher tortoise to the candidate list for Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. If the trend continues, it will move up quickly from the candidate list. The doomsday clock is ticking fast for the gopher tortoisesin Marco Island.
Here in Marco Island, we have wildlife habitats living next door to polished elegance. Pastoral images of gopher tortoises munching on vegetation and looking for mates on a vacant lot next door will soon be a thing of the past.
Can 21st century technology save the gopher tortoise?
There is an App for you, gopher tortoise! The FWC has a free app, which was released to the public last year. According to the FWC local coordinator, Allie Perryman, it is a way to get Florida residents involved in gopher tortoise conservation. Photos are submitted and reviewed by biologists, and posted on their interactive map. The online map will only show the approximate location to protect the gopher tortoises. The photos and exact locations are stored in the FWC database. They believe this is the only way to get reliable data. This App is available for both the android and iOS smartphones. Todownload the App, visit www.myfwc.com.
The City of North Port, Florida designed their Geographic Information System (GIS) as a Citizen Service Request App that allows the public to place points on a map. They added the gopher tortoise on a drop down menu to better monitor and protect the gopher tortoises. Jon Kalfsback, the data analyst for the Public Works Department for North Port, stated that their program has assisted the FWC with burrows that have been tampered or poached. When a gopher tortoise is mapped, it will disappear from the public but will be viewable by city staff and will get archived immediately to protect it from the public.
It is heartening to know that the City of Marco Island also has a GIS mapping system. Moustapha Girei, Marco Island’s GIS specialist, confirmed that we have the mapping “capability” that would allow the city to show an “approximate” location of the burrows ofprotected species. For example, the map will show red dots for burrowing owls but for the gopher tortoise, for now, the map only shows its roaming range as a yellow line.
How can you help? Start a citizen neighborhood watch to monitor the gopher tortoises in your neighborhood; be an informed voter and make sure your state, county and city officials value our natural resources as much as they value economic growth. Let’s all become a voice for the environment and for the protected species in our neighborhoods.
Reporting Procedure: If you observe any violation, please call FWC at 1-888-404-3933. Cell phone users can reach FWC at *FWC or #FWC. Or send a text message directly to: Tip@MyFWC.com. If you see an injured tortoise, please call the Conservancy of SW Florida Wildlife Clinic at 239-262-CARE (2273). Please note the time and date, take a photo of the violation, and call the local MIPD at the non-emergency number: 239-389-5050.