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Posted: Friday, August 3, 2018 12:45 am | Updated: 11:08 am, Fri Aug 3, 2018.

Florida Power and Light’s Turkey Point ‘Croc Team’ has created the ideal habitat for American Saltwater Crocodiles to live and reproduce.

The first words that come to mind when you think of Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant might be things like energy, or power; things like that would make perfect sense since Turkey Point does supply 1600 million watts of electricity to south Florida annually.

But, what if I told you the first thing that comes to mind when I think about turkey point is the American saltwater crocodile? You’d tell me I’m crazy, and until recently I would’ve had to agree. Crocodiles and nuclear power? Not exactly like peas and carrots. However, I was recently granted the opportunity to visit the land utility building on Turkey Points property, and get a glimpse of what some of the employees at this special facility do on a daily basis.

The land utility building is staffed by a variety of different employees. There are scientists taking water samples to ensure the plant isn’t polluting surrounding areas, and biologists studying the different species that have come to call Turkey Point home. The primary biologist I interacted with in my day at Turkey Point was Michael Lloret, a wildlife biologist and crocodile specialist. Lloret first showed us the habitat that attracts so much life to the plant, the extensive cooling canal system. Bob Bertelson, the land utilization supervisor, explained with great enthusiasm all the aspects of the 5900 acre canal system. The system of cooling canals has one major purpose, supplying water to the reactors to keep them at a steady, safe temperature. The water is circulated through the canals and never comes into contact with dangerous waste materials, however it does pick up excess heat from the nuclear reactions that it serves to cool. 

This warm water then attracts a wide variety of bird and animal species. Bertelson explained the problem of invasive species like tegu and pythons that the biologists have to deal with frequently throughout the canal system and on the rest of the Turkey Point property. Aside from some invasive species that have found their way into the warm waters Turkey Point has to offer, one species that has especially flourished in the canal system is the American saltwater crocodile.

Bertelson noted the soil that was used to build up the land divvying the canals into parallel lines attracts the crocodiles because it provides the perfect nesting habitat. Female crocodiles swarm to the pieces of land in the summer months to build their nests and lay their eggs, which leads to Biscayne Bay having a very healthy crocodile population. The staff at Turkey Point have made the habitat even more optimal for the crocs by digging freshwater ponds on the raised pieces of land in the canal system for juvenile crocs to live in. The freshwater ponds are vital for young crocs because juvenile crocodiles cannot tolerate saltwater. At about three months of age, the crocodiles develop the ability to live in saltwater. Until this stage in their early development, the freshwater ponds provide the most optimum habitat that gives these baby crocs the best chance of survival. 

Lloret’s job when it comes to these crocodiles is fascinating to say the least. He monitors this entire birthing process as much as he can without interfering. He clears nesting sites of overgrowing vegetation to make sure they are optimal for the pregnant females, monitors nesting sites and freshwater ponds for freshly hatched crocodiles, and collects any juvenile crocodiles he finds. After the hatchlings are collected each is injected with a microchip with a corresponding serial number, selected scutes (the raised pieces of cartilage on their tails) are trimmed in conjunction with their serial number which will easily identify them in the future. Each baby is measured for length, tail girth, sex, and weight. After each juvenile crocodile’s data has been recorded they are released into one of the freshwater ponds throughout the canal system to optimize the chance of their survival. This process has shown staggering improvements for crocodile populations in the areas surrounding Turkey Point.

In 1996, when the program began, the crocodile population was estimated to be 40 adult crocodiles living in the canal system. Today’s estimates put the number at 400. And with 144 hatchlings being collected this year across nine nests, the future is certainly looking good for this fascinating project of symbioses between man and nature. 

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