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City celebrating gopher tortoises with contests, programming

By Staff | Mar 28, 2019

MAUREEN MCGAURAN The winners of a gopher tortoise coloring contest by youth in the Sanibel Recreation Center's spring program included Hazel, Dylan, Sophia, Val, Rodd and Grace. Each winner received a plant that is considered gopher tortoise forage.

Again this year, the city of Sanibel is promoting community education and appreciation about the gopher tortoise, a protected species commonly found on Sanibel.

The education and awareness activities include an essay contest on the topic “Why is the Gopher Tortoise Important to Protect?” that is open to all island youth under the age of 13, a recent coloring contest by youth in the Sanibel Recreation Center’s spring program and a proclamation by the city council declaring April 10 as “Gopher Tortoise Day” on Sanibel.

The gopher tortoise is a keystone species; a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend on and an important indicator of ecosystem health. Gopher tortoise burrows are home to over 350 species. Due to problems such as habitat loss, disease and poaching, gopher tortoise populations have declined. Because of this, it is listed as a threatened species and is protected by the state.

Sanibel sustains a sizable population of gopher tortoises, which inhabit conservation lands, residential neighborhoods and commercial properties. Due to the upland habitat requirements of the gopher tortoise and potential conflicts with human development activities, gopher tortoises and their habitats on Sanibel are protected.

The deadline for the youth essay contest is April 5 at 5 p.m.

For more information or to access the essay contest form, visit www.mysanibel.com.

CROW is providing a variety of gifts for the essay winners.

Additionally, Recreation Department youth participated in a gopher tortoise education program presented by city biologist Joel Caouette and CROW during their Spring Break week. In addition to a field trip and presentation about gopher tortoises, their activities included a coloring contest. The winners in the most realistic category were third-grader Rodd, third-grader Dylan and first-grader Val. The most creative winners were Sophia, second-grader Hazel and seventh-grader Grace.

Each student received a plant that is considered gopher tortoise forage and all are native groundcover species, including gopher apple (Licania michauxii), blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), golden creeper (Ernodea littoralis), matchweed (Phyla nodiflora), and blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium).

The Sanibel City Council will proclaim April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day at its April 2 meeting.