The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is warning residents and visitors that the gopher tortoise — which can be distinguished from sea turtles based on their limbs which have toes with claws on each toe — can’t swim well so don’t “help” it into the water because it could easily drown.
The FWC report, which came out on Friday, was issued in light of at least three instances in March in which people tried to help hatchlings get into the ocean.
Gopher tortoises, known formally as Gopherus polyphemus, don’t swim well and are apt to drown as a result.
NBC 6 South Florida indicated in a report that the tortoises often nest in dunes near sea turtle nesting beaches which has lead to confusion, according to officials who also indicated that they can usually be identified without the need for handling.
The gopher tortoise is protected under Florida state law, as are all five species of sea turtles found in the state; the latter of which, Florida’s sea turtles, are also protected by federal law.
The long-lived reptiles occupy upland habitat throughout Florida which includes forests, yards and pastures, according to the FWC. The tortoise, of the species Gopherus genus is native to the southeastern United States.
They dig burrows for shelter which they share with more than 350 other species, which is why they’re referred to as a keystone species.
A rare albino dolphin was spotted off the coast of Florida back in January by Danielle Carter, a state wildlife volunteer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
What are your thoughts on the conservation of the tortoise that doesn’t swim well, the gopher tortoise?