Ecology of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) on Sanibel Island, Florida
The city of Sanibel and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) have had a long interest in protecting their gopher tortoise populations. It has been illegal to disturb tortoises on Sanibel in any way since 1979, but enforcement has been difficult. Regulations have been established on Sanibel to prevent fences from inhibiting tortoise movements and to set aside 15% of lands being developed for gopher tortoise habitat. There is a substantial need for information on Sanibel tortoises, especially concerning habitat characteristics, population characteristics and trends, and timing of activity (both daily and reproductive) if correct decisions are to be made regarding management and relocation. Island residents have conducted periodic surveys and found that gopher tortoises are declining in some areas of the island and have been eliminated in others (SCCF, unpublished data). This study was initiated in 1989 to provide 1) basic ecological information on sanibel tortoises for comparison to other populations, 2) SCCF and the city of Sanibel with recommendations to better manage and protect tortoise habitat and populations, and 3) baseline information for assessing the impacts of development, relocation efforts and habitat rehabilitation on tortoise populations.