St. Johns County warns folks to not touch gopher tortoises at all unless permission is granted by authorities.
Beachgoers in Florida have been confusing gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) with sea turtles and have been putting the tortoises into the ocean, so St. Johns County issued a warning and erected signs to let folks know that they shouldn’t be moving the reptiles, or even touching them.
"Gopher tortoises are mistaken for sea turtles. People will pick them up and place them into the ocean, when they are in fact, gopher tortoises and they belong in the dunes," Tara Dodson, the environmental supervisor with St. Johns County told News4Jax.
One way to tell the difference is sea turtles have flippers, while gopher tortoises have claws.
Dodson says the county gets about three to four calls a week on the issue, so in an effort to educate the public about the dangers to the tortoises of putting them in the ocean where they don’t belong, the county has erected several signs in multiple beach access points in St. Johns County.
Gopher tortoises are a protected species in the state of Florida and are listed as threatened. Both the reptile and its burrow are protected by state law.