Amer­i­can croc­o­diles thriv­ing out­side nuke plant

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By MAR­CUS LIM

MI­AMI — Amer­i­can croc­o­diles, once headed to­ward ex­tinc­tion, are thriv­ing at an un­usual spot — the canals sur­round­ing a South Florida nu­clear plant.

Last week, 73 croc­o­dile hatch­lings were res­cued by a team of spe­cial­ists at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nu­clear plant and dozens more are ex­pected to emerge soon.

Turkey Point’s 168-mile of man-made canals serve as the home to sev­eral hun­dred croc­o­diles, where a team of 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. Once 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.

“We en­tice croc­o­diles to come in to the habi­tats FPL cre­ated,” Lloret said. “We clear green­ery on the berms so that the croc­o­diles can nest. Be­cause of ris­ing sea lev­els wast­ing nests along the coasts, Turkey Point is im­por­tant for croc­o­diles to con­tinue.”

The canals are one of three ma­jor US habi­tats for croc­o­diles, where 25% of the 2,000 Amer­i­can croc­o­diles live. 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.

Tem­per­a­ture de­ter­mines the croc­o­diles’ sex: the hot­ter it is the more likely males are hatched. Lloret said this year’s hatch­lings are male-heavy due to last month be­ing the hottest June on record glob­ally.

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.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Wildlife bi­ol­o­gist/croc­o­dile spe­cial­ist Michael Lloret re­leases baby croc­o­diles back into the wild Fri­day along the cool­ing canals next to the Turkey Point Nu­clear Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion af­ter mea­sur­ing and tag­ging them with mi­crochips to ob­serve their de­vel­op­ment in the fu­ture in Home­stead, Florida.

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