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Recently, a couple of Alabama turtle species, the Gopher tortoise and Diamondback terrapin garnered support from Governor Kay Ivey and UAB.
Last week, Governor Ivey declared April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day in Alabama. The Governor signed the proclamation in front of representatives from the Gopher Tortoise Council, state environmental educators and a Gopher tortoise.
In Alabama, Gopher tortoises are federally and state protected and found in the lower third of the state in 23 counties. They are a keystone species, meaning that many other species in their native ecosystem depend on them. The Gopher tortoise is also unique to the Southeast as one of four species of tortoises found in the United States. The other three species are found in the Southwest United States.
Belonging to a group of land tortoises that originated in western North America nearly 60 million years ago, Gopher tortoises average between 9 and 15 inches in length. Prolific “home builders” Gopher tortoises burrow to create refuge from weather and predators. The burrows are typically 15-20 feet long and 6.5 feet deep. The longest recorded burrow is 47 feet long. Over 350 other animals may live in gopher tortoise burrows, including the federally threatened Eastern indigo snake.
UAB and The Nature Conservancy team up
According to UAB, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology recently received a three-year grant from The Nature Conservancy to restore Diamondback terrapins in the salt marshes of Alabama. The Diamondback terrapin is the only species of turtle that prefers living in coastal salt marsh habitats, and they were once abundant in the salt marshes of Alabama.
UAB professors Thane Wibbels and Ken Marion will document and monitor terrapin populations in Alabama in an effort to increase the production and survival of hatchling terrapins.
Mark Bailey, co-author of the book Turtles of Alabama added:
“As the epicenter of turtle diversity in North America (Alabama has more turtle species than any other state), it is gratifying to see these creatures recognized and appreciated, both by Governor Ivey’s proclamation of Gopher Tortoise Day and the Nature Conservancy grant to UAB for the Diamondback terrapin. Both of these turtles are of high conservation concern and with increasing threats to their existence, they need our help if they are to stay with us into the future.”
To learn more about Gopher Tortoise Day in Alabama and how you can celebrate and participate on April 10, visit the Gopher Tortoise Council website.