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City, CROW recognize winners of gopher tortoise essay contest

By Staff | Apr 18, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED From left, the winners are: Brooks Selby, third place; Drew Barron, first place; and Madison Byrne, second place.

In celebration of Gopher Tortoise Day, the city of Sanibel and CROW recently recognized three winners for the gopher tortoise essay contest sponsored by the Sanibel Recreation Center and CROW.

The winners are: fifth-grader Drew Barron, fourth-grader Madison Olivia Byrne and third-grader Brooks Selby.

A celebration occurred on April 12 at The Sanibel School, with prizes provided by CROW.

The city recognizes that maintaining healthy populations of gopher tortoises is essential to sustaining Sanibel’s ecology and sanctuary characteristics. On April 2, the Sanibel City Council issued a proclamation designating April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day. People can show their appreciation and help gopher tortoises by keeping a watchful eye for gopher tortoises while driving around the island. 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 when it is safe to do so.

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 have been afforded additional protections.

PHOTO PROVIDED First place winner Drew Barron

To protect the community’s gopher tortoise habitat, Sanibel property owners can:

– Plant native vegetation for gopher tortoises to feed on.

– Maintain open areas in your yard by trimming back woody vegetation that can “shade out” gopher tortoise burrows.

– Leave existing gopher tortoise burrows undisturbed, and avoid mowing, driving or other activities that could cause disturbance directly around them.

In 2016, the Gopher Tortoise Council adopted April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day in Florida to increase awareness and appreciation for the protected species. The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species. A keystone species is a species on which other species in the ecosystem largely depend and is an important indicator of overall ecosystem health. Gopher tortoises are unique in their ability to dig burrows. Gopher tortoise burrows are home to more than 350 species.

PHOTO PROVIDED Second place winner Madison Byrne

Unfortunately, due to problems such as habitat loss, disease and poaching, gopher tortoise populations have declined. The gopher tortoise is listed as a threatened species and is protected by the state.

In accordance with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 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; a plan to preserve gopher tortoise habitats 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 handler according to a plan approved by the city and state.

PHOTO PROVIDED Third place winner Brooks Selby