News Releases

All turtles are not equal; the gopher tortoise lives on land so don’t ‘help’ it into water

News Release

Friday, April 03, 2015

Media contact: Brandon Basino, 727-896-8626

Last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received three known reports of well-intentioned good Samaritans incorrectly releasing gopher tortoise hatchlings into the ocean. Gopher tortoises cannot swim well and can easily drown. Because gopher tortoises often nest in dunes adjacent to sea turtle nesting beaches, correct identification of these terrestrial animals is important before deciding what action, if any, is necessary.

To distinguish gopher tortoises from sea turtles, simply inspect their limbs from a distance: Gopher tortoises have toes, with claws on each toe. Sea turtles have flippers with only one or two claws present on each foreflipper. Proper identification can be achieved without handling the animals. Please see our gopher tortoise photos at for help discerning gopher tortoises from sea turtles.

All five species of sea turtles found in Florida are federally endangered or threatened and managed under the Endangered Species Act as well as under Florida Statutes; the gopher tortoise is listed under state law. If you spot any of these species in danger on the beach, please do not disturb the animal. Instead, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or call #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone.

FWC Facts:
It is against the law to damage seagrass beds in some areas within state waters. Fines are based on the economic & environmental importance & costs of assessing, repairing damage.

Learn More at AskFWC