PROTECTING & PRESERVING
“Only gators get out of the swamp alive! Chomp Chomp!”
Anyone who is a University of Florida alumni or fan knows this chant to be true. You’ll hear it at a UF Gator football team in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium a.k.a. “The Swamp!” But in the natural world, this is true too. Alligators live in all 67 counties of Florida. They are a fundamental part of the wetland, swamp, river and lake ecosystems that comprise the water world of Florida. Alligators are the apex, or top, predators for these ecosystems, keeping the animal populations in balance, and in dry seasons, creating environments for aquatic animals to survive.
Preferring fresh water in slow moving water systems like swamps and marshes, alligators are commonly seen sunning and swimming along the drainage ditches in South Florida, too. What child growing up on Marco Island has not tried to count all the alligators along State Road 41 from Marco Island to Everglade City?! They can also be found in brackish to salt water for short periods of time, though without salt glands, their tolerance is low. Occasionally, there will be one spotted in the Marco River and even the canals of Marco Island. A few times, one has been removed from the beachfront. This is more common after heavy rains and in warmer waters like this past summer season. Alligators were reported in several canals this past August and September. It is not uncommon.
Alligators are fascinating, historic creatures that can be enjoyed as part of the natural beauty of South Florida. They play an important role in the Everglades ecosystem. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimates there are approximately 1.3 million gators in Florida based on the 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat. (Note: This number does not include the University of Florida Gator fans!) With the population of people growing yearly and more living and recreating on or near the water, conflicts between alligators and humans happen and will most likely increase. A majority of the complaints are from people just simply not wanting an alligator in the vicinity. Through outreach programs, FWC does educate people on how to live with alligators, but this agency also issues about 7,000 nuisance alligator permits to remove and kill alligators every year.
A few precautions on our part can help us co-exist safely:
• Alligators four feet in length or less generally are not large enough to be dangerous (unless handled). But, if you believe it does pose a threat to people, pets, or property, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). Please be aware – nuisance alligators are removed and killed; they are not relocated.
• Never Feed Alligators – Feeding these reptiles is both dangerous and illegal. Feeding an alligator makes them associate people with food. Losing their natural wariness of humans creates a danger for people and will cause a too familiar alligator to be removed and killed.
• Keep Your Distance – Alligators may look like they are sleeping or lethargic but they move suddenly and fast and you are in their habitat. They are not well adapted on land but can lunge a few feet at a time. Observe and take photos from a safe, protected distance.
• Never Disturb Nests or Small Alligators – Leave them alone. It is against Florida State law to handle, possess or kill alligators. Even handling small alligators can result in injury.
• Keep Pets and Children Away From Alligators – Small humans and pets attract alligators when swimming or nearshore in waters that may contain alligators. Be aware of your surroundings and waterside habitat you are in when with small children and pets.
• Do Not Swim in Known Alligator Habitats – Alligator bites happen the most in water and most likely are a result of an accidental collision of the swimmer and an alligator. Gators feed typically at dawn and dusk, but if surprised or harassed will attack.
• Make Some Noise – If you are bit by an alligator, make as much noise and fight back by hitting, kicking the body and poking its eyes. They may let go and retreat. Call 911 immediately!
For more information on alligators and living with them in Florida, go to www.MyFWC.com. To report nuisance alligators call 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286).
For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or [email protected]