- Gopher tortoises are threatened due to habitat loss, let’s all share the need to be aware
- Florida gopher tortoise awareness day is April 10th
- Find gopher tortoises on a walk to any Florida beach, and at many other places
By Forrest Fisher
Gopher tortoises are charming creatures.
They are also beachgoer stoppers. “Hey look over there,” said Matt Nardollilo, as he motioned to his family friends headed to the beach with towels and shark tooth screens. His college girlfriend, Kelsey Voss, who is studying veterinary medicine, slowly approached the tortoise and said, “They’re so cute! We should really try to get her away from the road.” The group had already witnessed one other reptile tortoise that had lost its life to traffic on the busy highway earlier. Using grasses that the vegetarian gopher tortoise enjoys as a primary meal staple (often eating all day long), the tortoise was coaxed back to the safety of the sand dunes. While there, the group saw one other gopher tortoise digging a burrow in the dense foliage between the parking lot and beach. Gopher tortoise burrows average seven feet deep and 15 feet long but can be more than 40 feet long. “It’s been such an incredible nature day,” shared Matt, “I love visiting Florida!”
Gopher tortoises are classified as a state-threatened species in Florida, primarily due to habitat loss. The slow-moving reptile is vital to Florida ecosystems, as it digs burrows that provide shelter for over 350 native species. The Gopher Tortoise Council declared April 10th as Gopher Tortoise Day to raise awareness for this remarkable reptile.
There are many ways that EVERYONE can help conserve this keystone species on this special day and throughout the year!
- Host your own Gopher Tortoise Day event to raise appreciation. At your event, you can distribute materials found on the Gopher Tortoise Day website to help attendees learn how to help gopher tortoises and the habitats they live in.
- Volunteer at a local park to improve gopher tortoise habitat by picking up trash, removing invasive plants, or planting native plants.
- Organize hands-on activities for kids at a local school or nature center using the materials found on the Gopher Tortoise Day website. The website includes gopher tortoise coloring pages, a taxonomic matching game, gopher tortoise hats and masks, and even an interactive gopher tortoise burrow. You can even design Gopher Tortoise Day T-shirts for your event!
- Install gopher tortoise-friendly signs where tortoises frequent to increase awareness. Make sure to receive permission from property owners first.
- Become a volunteer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help conserve these gentile reptiles!
- Participate in a wildlife appreciation festival. You can request a local gopher tortoise expert from the FWC to give a presentation at the event. Email GTevents@MyFWC.com to see if someone is available to attend.
- Plan native plants in your yard or neighborhood using the Florida Guide to Gopher Tortoise Friendly Plants.
- Become a citizen scientist by utilizing the Florida Gopher Tortoise smartphone app to catalog gopher tortoises seen in your community.
- Encourage kids to develop an appreciation for nature and gopher tortoises by using the Gopher Tortoise Field Trip Guide.
Visit the Get Involved page for more ideas on how to bask in the glory of Gopher Tortoise Day.
No matter how you choose to enjoy it, make sure to share on social media or invite local news media to your event! For a sample of social media posts and press releases,check out the Media page of the Gopher Tortoise Day website. Remember to promote your posts by using #GopherTortoiseDay!
Celebrating Gopher Tortoise Day is one way to help tortoises in your community, but many of these activities can be done year-round to benefit this important species!
For more information about Gopher Tortoise Day, hosting an event, or adopting a resolution, please contact GTevents@MyFWC.com or call (850) 921-1025.