Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Florida Crocodile Comeback, Courtesy of Nuclear Energy

As part of being a good neighbor, American nuclear power plants do their level best to preserve the local environment in and around their operations. In Florida, that's provided an incredible comeback for a once endangered species -- the American Crocodile.

Back in 1975 there were only between 10-20 breeding females in the entire state, but now there are as many as 2,000. And one of the reasons why is the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant:

"The high ground is so ideal for laying crocodile eggs that Turkey Point has become an enormous crocodile nursery. It's now home to about 500 full-grown crocodiles -- a quarter of the country's entire adult crocodile population."
What a great story. Thanks to Plenty for the pointer. Best of all, it isn't news to us here at NEI, as JoAnn Sperber covered this in the May 2005 edition of Nuclear Energy Insight. Here's the full text of that story:

Crocodile Cheers
Florida Nuclear Plant Helps Bring Reptile Back From the Brink

Joe Wasilewski always smiles at the crocodiles.

He also studies their behavior, documents their birth and tracks the local population of crocodiles. And he does all this at a nuclear power plant.

Wasilewski plies his trade at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point, where efforts to save the American crocodile are about to pay off. The Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reclassifying the creature from endangered to threatened.

Wasilewski arrived at the plant in 1989 at the suggestion of a Turkey Point employee. He expected the part-time assignment—surveying the plant’s American crocodiles—to last a few weeks. Fifteen years later, the wildlife biologist continues his work
as the plant’s environmental specialist.

“The first crocodile was sighted at the plant in 1976,” Wasilewski said. “Shortly after that sighting, Turkey Point began a crocodile management program that monitors the reptiles, records data and marks each crocodile at birth. We keep a logbook that tells us where and when a crocodile was born, where and when it has been spotted.”

The reptiles prefer the plant’s cooling water canals because the constant water level within the system eliminates the problem of nest flooding and protects the nest from predators. “There is a common misconception about the canals,” Wasilewski said. “Many people believe the warmer water in the canals is the reason the crocodiles live there. Nothing could be further from the truth. They like water at ambient temperature.

“The truth is that the canals provide an ample supply of food and that female crocodiles prefer to lay their eggs in a berm away from the wind,” he added. “Also, there are other crocodiles living at the plant, and Turkey Point’s protected location keeps humans far away from the reptile’s habitat.”

Spring is mating season for the American crocodiles. The reptiles will dig burrows 10 to 30 feet deep into the fresh-water canals, where they lay their eggs and then cover them for protection.

“Then, the female crocodiles go off to feed and rest, because laying the eggs is a grueling process,” Wasilewski said. “After two months, the crocodiles return and shake the ground near their nests and put their ears to the ground to listen for their babies’ cries.”

Wasilewski estimated that the plant’s crocodiles lay 200 to 300 eggs each year. Only 5 percent to 10 percent survive, because of inclement weather and predators.

After birth, the mother “takes her hatchlings to nearby fresh water, because their salt-excreting glands have not formed,” he added. “It’s surprising to see, because the mothers are so tender and caring to their young. They sometimes carry them in their mouths for a mile to find fresh water.”

Wasilewski hopes to get a close look at the entire birthing process this year by placing motionsensing cameras near the nests to capture maternal behavior. “These are fascinating creatures, and we want to learn more about their behaviors,” he added.

The large number of crocodile nests is one sign of the plant’s success. Experts found just one or two nests at the site in the late 1970s. That number burgeoned to 19 last year. Biologists believe that a minimum of 60 nests are required to move the species off the endangered list. “Sixty-one nests were built last year, 19 of them at Turkey Point,” Wasilewski said. That is a significant number for any site.

Protecting endangered species is one of the pillars of FPL’s environmental programs. The company maintains active programs for protecting other endangered or threatened species, such as American alligators, Florida manatees, sea turtles and Florida panthers at several other power plant sites.

Wasilewski has traveled from Costa Rica to Cuba to consult with scientific colleagues about the American crocodile and other species, including the iguana. “I have gone around the world to learn about these animals,” he said.

In Florida, Wasilewski and other plant personnel collaborate with federal and state officials on a regular basis. Officials from two other American crocodile refuge areas, Everglades National Park and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, routinely contact Turkey Point to report the whereabouts of one of their reptiles. Each site has its own marking system that allows better tracking of the creatures throughout southern Florida.

Technology may soon change that practice. Wasilewski, Miami Metrozoo and several other donors have purchased satellite-tracking equipment to monitor the crocodiles more efficiently and accurately.

Although the crocodile program is one of many ecological programs at the plant, Wasilewski believes it is a critical one. “This highlights FPL’s environmental stewardship in a very meaningful way,” he said.


Josh said...

The first child that gets eaten by one of those crocodiles will be the next stick with which the Usual Suspects will beat nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

This demonstrates absolutley nothing, pro or con, about nuclear power. It merely shows that wildlife reserves help endangered species. Such reserves are a good idea, and can and should be established, whether or not there is a power plant near by.

It would have been perfectly feasible to establish such a reserve without having the plant there.

Left Atomics said...

What anonymous doesn't understand that as part of the process of every nuclear power plant is a man-made 'biosphere' where human beings are not allowed.

What this means then is that for every NPP, you get a preserve. Bummer, huh?

David Walters