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How Tortoises Affected the Air Show!

Preparation for the Melbourne Air Show is in full swing.  The pilots are ready.  The performers are ready.  The food vendors are ready.  The volunteers are ready.  But we seem to have hit a snag with the parking.  And the problem?  The Gopher Tortoise.

A 14 acre parking lot that can hold approximately 8,000 is now home to a bunch of gopher tortoises.  Event organizers may still be able to use portions of the parking lot, but will have to avoid the Gophers in order to do so.  At this time, it is estimated that the lot will only hold 3,000 to 4,000 cars.

What is the Gopher Tortoise?

The Gopher Tortoise is a threatened species.  This means that event organizers must not only turn in plans for the parking lot, they must also do a special tortoise survey in order to mark sections of the lot that house these animals.

Because they are threatened, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission created the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan.  This plan helps people identify tortoise habitats so that they can be reported and monitored.  In the event of development, plans and assistance is provided in order to humanely remove the tortoises to other, less developed areas.  In the event of the airshow, the tortoises must be left alone.

These tortoises dig their homes deep into the group and actually create deep burrows.  They can be up to ten feet deep and 40 feet long.  Because these tortoises can up to 9-11 inches in length, the burrows can also be that wide.  They dig these burrows in order to get an environment that is safe, sheltered from the elements and constant in temperature.  These burrows are used by other animals within Florida’s ecosystem and are considered extremely beneficial.

Gophers can live up of 60 years of age and are considered to be an adult by the time they hit 10-15 years of age.  Of the five types of tortoises in the United States, the Gopher is the only one that is exists east of the Mississippi River. A female begins to breed anywhere from 9 to 21 years of age.  The females only lay eggs once per year and she usually lays about six eggs.  However, not all eggs survive the 3 month incubation period.  Many eggs are eaten by predators.  If the eggs are not eaten and the Gopher actually hatches, the tiny Gopher becomes prey as well.

One of the interesting facts about the Gopher is that it eats vegetation, but usually leaves the plant healthier than when it starts eating it.  Instead of stripping the leaves from the tree or shrub, the Gopher prunes the vegetation.

Note: The air show is at Melbourne International Airport (MLB) and is on Saturday and Sunday March 21st and 22nd, 2015

20 Mar

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