Several hundred American crocodiles make their home in the cooling canals of the Turkey Point Power Plant.
In 1978, when plant workers surprisingly discovered a crocodile nest on one of the berms of the cooling canals, FPL decided to run the Turkey Point Crocodile Monitoring Program. Since then, FPL has implemented a crocodile management plan with the ultimate goal of providing suitable habitat for this protected species.
American crocodiles are gray-green or olive-green with long, slender snouts, which distinguish them from their cousin, the alligator. The “crocs” can grow up to 15-feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Decidedly less aggressive than the Nile and Australian crocodiles, American crocodiles are shy, reclusive and rarely seen by people.
South Florida is the only place in the United States where they are found, and, just in Florida, there are more than 1,000 American crocodiles, not including hatchlings. However, American crocodiles are also present in the Caribbean, southern Mexico and along the Central American coast south to Venezuela.
FPL’s effort throughout the years to preserve these reptiles, alongside federal and state conservation agencies, paid off when in 2007 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) announced that the listing status of the American crocodile went from endangered to threatened in Florida under the Endangered Species Act, and credited Turkey Point for greatly contributing to these efforts.
In fact, there are only three sanctuaries for this species in South Florida: Everglades National Park, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Key Largo and FPL’s Turkey Point. “What separates FPL’s program from the other two is that FPL actually creates crocodile habitat,” said Michael Lloret, wildlife biologist at Turkey Point. “Crocodiles are thriving in waters used to help harness nuclear power,” he added.
FPL’s program helps monitor and protect the “crocs” that have made the cooling canals their home. The crocodile team builds nesting areas to keep the hatchlings away from the plant and natural predators. While on monitoring and tracking duties, the team examines each crocodile, measuring its head, overall length, tail girth and weight.
Furthermore, biologists use two types of tracking methods: Avid microchips and scute clippings. Scute is the hard, thick skin of the crocodile. The microchips are used to track a reference ID to scan the captured animal, as well as to track any animal that falls prey to others. The scute clippings provide the animal’s ID number and location and are a quick way for experts to determine in which area the crocodiles were first tagged.
Each newly captured reptile is microchipped, so if it is captured again, biologists can follow its growth and development. Once the information is recorded, the crocodile is released. “The best part of the program is to return them safely to their environment,” added Mr. Lloret.
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