MIAMI – American crocodiles, once headed toward extinction, are thriving at an unusual spot – the canals surrounding a South Florida nuclear plant.
Recently, 73 crocodile hatchlings were rescued by a team of specialists at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear plant in Homestead, and dozens more are expected to emerge soon.
Turkey Point's 168 miles of man-made canals are home to several hundred crocodiles. It's where specialists working for FPL monitors and protects them from hunting and climate change.
From January to April, Michael Lloret, an FPL wildlife biologist and crocodile specialist, helps create nests and ponds on berms for crocodiles to nest. After the hatchlings are reared and left by the mother, the team captures them. They are measured and tagged with microchips to observe their development. Lloret then relocates them to increase survival rates.
The canals are one of three major habitats for the 2,000 crocodiles that live in the U.S. The FPL team has been credited for moving the classification of crocodiles on the Endangered Species Act to “threatened” from “endangered” in 2007. The team has tagged 7,000 babies since it was established in 1978.
Because hatchlings released are at the bottom of the food chain, only a small fraction survives to be adults. Lloret said they at least have a fighting chance at Turkey Point, away from humans who hunted them to near-extinction out of greed and fear even though attacks are rare.
Only one crocodile attack has ever been recorded in the U.S. A couple were both bitten while swimming in a South Florida canal in 2014, but both survived.
“American crocodiles have a bad reputation when they are just trying to survive,” Lloret said. “They are shy and want nothing to do with us. Humans are too big to be on their menu.”