ESTERO, Fla. — Sunday- it was all about the tortoises!
Koreshan State Park was the scene for Florida Gopher Tortoise Day with special events dedicated to learning about the reptile.
"Everybody loves our state but the issue is that we forget about the little, humble gopher tortoise.”
At the state park, you’ll find dozens of burrows home to the mighty gopher tortoise- one of Florida’s ‘keystone species.’
"Anywhere from an invertebrate to bobcats to coyotes- depend on that burrow for safety, either from predation or from fire," says Dr. Pamela Jones-Morton, Advanced Florida Master Naturalist. "They go to that burrow so if that gopher tortoise isn’t around then their burrows aren’t there.”
The day is dedicated specifically to the reptile. With a variety of activities offered, designed both to entertain and educate families. Such as the burrow camera, allowing the chance to catch a glimpse inside of an actual gopher tortoise burrow.
"This scope has a light and a camera at the end of it and it feeds back to this monitor here so that we can kind of look and see what’s going on inside the burrow and see what life is like inside a gopher tortoise burrow.”
Kyle Brown is a conservation biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. He says having a day dedicated to the reptile took some time.
"Years back the State of Florida and the gopher tortoise council, which is a state quarter group that works with gopher tortoises, started working with local governments and came up with this holiday to celebrate this species and bring awareness to their protections and how important they are.”
And that’s the main message behind the day- education. Conservationists say gopher tortoise populations are declining rapidly and events like this are making people aware.
"We also have a gopher tortoise friendly yard campaign that people can sign up for to do a few things for tortoises in their neighborhood and in their own yard," says Brown. "Just be aware of the species and they are a very cool and unique animal to Florida. We definitely want to keep them around for a long time.”
A concept that goes a long way, especially with the younger crowd…
"If the young ones can grasp the importance of the gopher tortoise and they begin to understand, then they begin to appreciate it," says Jones-Morton. "They then understand the criticality of saving it. Then we’re on the move of getting these young ones to be the pillars of the future to help the plight of the gopher tortoise.”
You can learn more information about gopher tortoise protection efforts online right here.