Biologists monitor crocodiles at nuclear plant | ajc.com
An unexpected but fruitful relationship has blossomed between two potent forces in the swamps of South Florida: the American crocodile, and a nuclear power plant.
The reptile has made it off the endangered species list thanks in part to 168 miles of manmade cooling canals surrounding Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in the southeastern corner of the Florida peninsula. It turns out that Florida Power and Light was building prime croc habitat just as virtually every other developer was paving it over.
Federal wildlife officials give the state’s largest public utility part of the credit for a five-fold increase in the species’ population in Florida. There are only two other sanctuaries for the crocodiles, which are still considered threatened.
“The way the cooling canal system was designed actually turned out to be pretty good for crocodile nesting,” said John Wrublik, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It wasn’t designed for crocodiles, but they’ve done a very good job of maintaining that area.”
Hundreds of crocodiles, as long as 15 feet and as heavy as one ton, roam the swampland surrounding the power plant. They’re monitored by wildlife biologists hired by the utility, who sometimes need quick reflexes to keep all their fingers.
On one recent nighttime survey, Mario Aldecoa jumped from an airboat in total darkness and darted into the bushes to grab a 13-pound crocodile to mark it for identification.
“It’s usually just adrenaline and instinct,” he said.
The American crocodile is often confused with its plentiful cousin, the alligator. Alligators are black, have broad, rounded snouts and are found throughout the deep South. Crocodiles are grayish, have narrow tapered snouts and are so sensitive to cold that their only U.S. habitat is in South Florida.