... don't put it in the ocean!
Margie found this beautiful little gopher tortoise on the beach early yesterday morning. What, you may well ask, is a gopher tortoise doing on the beach? Blair and Dawn Witherington's book, Florida's Living Beaches, tells us that gopher tortoises dig burrows in sandy scrub habitat, including coastal dunes, and that they may wander onto beaches, but rarely feed there.
Margie adds: There are some living in the dunes here and there. I've seen them wandering on the beach before. The unfortunate ones are misidentified by beach-goers as sea turtles and "helped" into the ocean. This little guy today was pretty far from the dune line when I saw him. He was down in last week's dried wrack, right next to a big ghost crab hole. At first I thought maybe the crab had dragged him there and he was injured, so I picked him up to see. He was ok and tried to run away, so I could see all his legs were working fine. At that point I figured I might as well "help" him get home, so I took him up to the dune line and put him down near a bay bean plant (sometimes called a beach pea), which is when I took the photos. When last seen, he was motoring west into the thick dune, using his sturdy little legs. (Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it - baby gopher turtles are such pretty little creatures.)
As luck would have it, Jim has this photo of a loggerhead sea turtle hatchling, posing near a railroad vine. Good looking flippers, handy to have when swimming. (Click on photo so you can see the fancy white trim on his little flippers.)
The moral of this story is, if it has flippers, it's a sea turtle. If it has legs, it's not, and don't put it in the water!