HOMESTEAD — Observers are noting a big drop in the number of crocodiles in canals around a nuclear power plant that has long been a draw for the reptiles in Florida.
Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida professor who has been studying crocodiles since the 1970s, says the number of nests around the Turkey Point nuclear plant dropped to nine in the nesting season that ended in August, from 22 a year earlier. The number of hatchlings in the cooling canals near the Florida Power and Light facility was at an estimated 100 this year from 400 last year, according to Mazzotti.
The numbers represent the fewest crocodile babies and nests, the professor said, in at least a decade.
Rising temperatures and sparse rainfall left the water in the 168-mile network of canals warmer and saltier than usual. Mazzotti said it's difficult to say whether salty waters directly caused the decline, but crocodiles can tolerate salinity levels as high as 40 parts per thousand, and the canals have reached as high as 90 parts per thousand.
FPL has been withdrawing millions of gallons of water from the L-31E Canal system since June 1, and the salinity level dropped to 70 parts per thousand and after recent rain, reached 60, according to reports submitted to the South Florida Water Management District. A company spokesman, Greg Brostowicz, said challenging environmental conditions have caused the increased salinity, but that many crocodiles continue to inhabit the waters around the plant.
"Although we believe the canal conditions of increased salinity has reduced the number of crocodiles spending time in the system, these animals move in and out of the cooling system regularly," Brostowicz told the Palm Beach Post. "We continue to see large numbers of crocodiles on our property, and biologists estimate there are about 400 crocodiles at Turkey Point itself."
Environmentalists have aired concerns about the raised salinity and the impact it has had on many types of animals and plants.
Barry White, president of Citizens Allied for Safety Energy in Miami, said, "CASE members cannot reconcile the gross insult to the rare Turkey Point wetlands as a place to produce energy. There is not enough freshwater and the canals have exacerbated saltwater intrusion, spread toxic water into the area, and as we see, have just about eliminated the crocodile and all of the other species on which it depends in the canals."