• Signs on Fernandina Beach to remind people not to put gopher tortoises in the water

    By: Deanna Bettineschi, Action News Jax


    Local experts say gopher tortoise deaths from drowning are on the rise.

    They say people are think they're helping the turtles by putting them in the water. The only problem is they can't swim in rough currents like the ocean.

    Fernandina Beach is the first city in the state that is getting 20 signs to put up at area beaches. They're a reminder to people that the federally protected gopher tortoises should not be put in the water.

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    “People mistake them for sea turtles or water turtles and put them in a body of water,” said Carissa Kent, founder of Saving Florida Gopher Tortoises.

    Kent said if put in water, gopher tortoises could drown. She said her organization is seeing an increase in calls for questions about them as well as drownings and said last year there was also a concern.

    “Probably about 20 that we've confirmed that drowned and those are the ones just that we’ve been notified about,” Kent said.

    Neighbor Robin Pierce said he's seen people try to put them in the water and he stops them.

    “I ran down there and told them that they’re not sea turtles, they live up there in the dunes,” Pierce said.

    That's why experts say these signs are needed.

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    The next step is to get crew to install the signs. City leaders say they may attach them to signs like these that say, “Leave No Items Behind.”

    Tortoises live in the dunes and sometimes go to the water's edge to cool off. A picture was taken by Fernandina Beach’s fire chief on Tuesday, showing a tortoise walking to the water.

    She said tortoises are a threatened species and should be left alone.

    For more information, visit the Florida Wildlife Federation's website.

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