WALTON COUNTY-- About a dozen gopher tortoises from central Florida now have a new home in northwest Florida.
The turtles were released at the Nokuse Plantation Friday morning.
The plantation is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and restoration of Florida's native species, including gopher tortoises which are a threatened species.
Experts say gopher tortoise numbers are dropping primarily due to loss of habitat.
Friday morning each tortoise was assessed for health issues, measured, and weighed, then released into the protected preserve.
"There are certain individuals like the gopher tortoise that are considered keystone. Which means that all other organisms are connected to it and if that organism is removed you have a crumbling of the system," Derek Breakfield, a gopher tortoise biologist, said.
Nokuse Plantation is a 51,000 acre private preserve that provides a wildlife refuge and link between existing state and federal lands.
It is also the site of the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center for Outdoor Education.