The Big Turtle Year: Update #1

Species #1: Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
Location: Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Date: 1 January 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich

One down and 58 species to go. Today was the first day of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust’s new initiative, The Big Turtle Year, which will be occurring throughout the United States during 2017. Long in the planning, this conservation education project will increase awareness regarding the status of these often overlooked and ecologically significant animals. Individuals who wish to support our efforts can donate at our GoFundMe site (www.gofundme.com/BigTurtleYear) or mail checks directly to FTCT as many individuals have done.

 George L. Heinrich with the first turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult female gopher tortoise ( Gopherus   polyphemus ) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by Andrew Farren.

George L. Heinrich with the first turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult female gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by Andrew Farren.

As planned, we started our year-long quest at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida) with a search for gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus). This location was selected for symbolic reasons as it is a special place that is close to my heart. I have studied the herpetofauna of this preserve for over 25 years, and have conducted several burrow surveys of this fragmented population (estimate of 137 tortoises) located within a city-owned nature preserve. Data collected is being used to guide upland habitat management efforts and to address concerns regarding minimum viable population and minimum reserve size.

 The first turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult female gopher tortoise ( Gopherus   polyphemus  )  at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

The first turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult female gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

I was joined by two friends, Andrew Farren (project partner) and Jaime Gonzalez (current student in my Turtle Science course), on the upland trails in an area known to have a large number of tortoise burrows. The temperature reached 79 degrees by 1:00 pm and we observed a total of nine tortoises over the next 1.5 hours, including a hatchling at a burrow which I have been monitoring for the past two months. I consider this to be a great start for what should be a great year. Happy New Year to everyone!

 An adult male gopher tortoise ( Gopherus   polyphemus ) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

An adult male gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.