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Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)
Location Monroe County, Florida, USA
Nearest city Key Largo, Florida
Coordinates 25°17′N 80°20′W / 25.283°N 80.333°W / 25.283; -80.333Coordinates: 25°17′N 80°20′W / 25.283°N 80.333°W / 25.283; -80.333
Area 6,686 acres (27.1 km²)
Established 1980
Governing body US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is part of the United States National Wildlife Refuge System, located in north Key Largo, less than 40 miles (60 km) south of Miami off SR 905 (Card Sound Road). The 6,686 acre (27.1 km²) refuge (located in Monroe County, Florida) opened during the year of 1980, under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It was established in order to protect critical breeding and nesting habitat for the threatened American crocodile and other wildlife.[1] This area also includes 650 acres (2.6 km2) of open water in and around the refuge. In addition to being one of only three breeding populations of the American crocodile,[2] the refuge is home to many different habitat species including the tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forest, and salt marsh. It is administered as part of the National Key Deer Refuge which is also located in southern Florida.



Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge was supposed to be a residential development in the area; however, in the boating access area, dredge-spoil piled up, and as a result of the canal, it became a very important nesting area for the remaining 1400 threatened American crocodiles[1] along with other fauna. In 1975, the American crocodiles had numbered only around 200 in population; however, as of March 20, 2007, the federal government downlisted the American crocodile from endangered to threatened, though the capturing and hunting of the crocodile is still forbidden. The American crocodiles, once ranging in great numbers, had been hunted for exporting its hide and skin. The government labeled the decreased population due to this hunting and also, to loss of habitat in the area. Among the many endangered species, the tropical hardwood hammock is being protected at the refuge (see Hardwood hammock renewal below). The Key Largo Woodrat, Key Largo Cotton Mouse, Schaus Swallowtail butterfly, Stock Island Treesnail and the Eastern Indigo Snake are also diminishing species who need the hammocks to provide the essential necessities for them. Due to certain types of development in the area, these forests' size and population of hammocks depleted, causing the population of those animals who reside in the habitat to also decline in population.[1] Along with refuge manager Steven Klett, Project Leader Phil Frank is currently overseeing several projects and activities which have been designed to help restore the fauna and vegetation to the area. The refuge has been closed to the public because female crocodiles who give birth will leave the nest with even just one disturbance to her young or area.[3]

Activities at the refuge

The main objective of the refuge is to protect some endangered and threatened species, especially the American crocodile. The enhancement of the habitats in the area is for the benefit of the fauna found in south Florida. Some of the activities include the following:


Captive breeding program for the Key Largo Woodrat

This program was inducted to help protect the endangered woodrat. The Key Largo Woodrat lives mostly in trees and shelters with overhangs. The normal diet of the animal is mainly green leaves and fruit from the trees it resides in; this particular rat will only eat natural foods from its environment and will not consume garbage waste. The woodrat, although a part of the rat family, is considered more as a type of mouse due to its similar behavior and physical characteristics. The main purpose of the breeding program is to enhance the wild population in order to mitigate the population decline. Divided into a couple of different stages, the first step is to trap woodrats and then to breed them in a controlled, captive environment. The offspring will then be released into the refuge area at the appropriate times. One of the favored habitats of the woodrat comes under the protection of the hardwood hammocks. These trees provide a critical home for this endangered animal; however, the woodrats are finding it harder to live because of the decreasing population of the hammocks.[1] Local researchers have discovered that the desired habitat for these creatures also has something to do with a type of roof coverage. They tend to prefer nesting in areas underneath rock formations, hurricane-downed trees, and even overturned boats. Experts say a devastating hurricane would down thousands of trees yet, would increase the woodrat population.[3] The main shelter characteristic of the woodrats are areas containing roofs.[4] The roof provides a type of cover that is critical for protection against predators and heavy rainfall. According to local volunteer and photographer Clay DeGayner, the woodrats' population has declined significantly over the past twenty years and at one point had dropped to numbers as low as 25 to 50 woodrats.[4] Currently, a little less than 100 of the species are now inside the refuge. Other volunteers have implanted tracking devices onto the woodrats in efforts to assist and observe them better. DeGayner also said, however, the woodrats population will increase if the hammock renewal project continues to flourish.

Hardwood hammock renewal

During the Cold War, a missile facility was built on the grounds where the refuge now lies. The base, constructed in an area which habituated the hammock, built numerous buildings and launch-pads to aid in war efforts. The refuge has recently implanted a project in order to remove the unnecessary buildings and pads from the hammock forests. The refuge hopes to complete this task in a few years in order to restore more than 10 acres (40,000 m2) to the area. In addition to various parts of the refuge, the Keystone pit near US Highway 1 is under management to increase the hammock population (see below). One of the main importance's of these hammocks is that it "provides critical habitats for five federally endangered species."[2] These species, mentioned in the first section of the article, have decreased in population size due to the lack of hammock area over the past few decades. The refuge, therefore, has found it necessary to restore a large amount of hammocks in the area.[1] Much of the habitat was diminished due in part to urban development and the structuring of wetlands to agriculture.[3]

Keystone Pit restoration project

There is a 2.16 acre (8,740 m²) hole (officially known as the "Keystone Pit") in the refuge, which manager Steven Klett has wanted to fill in order to revitalize the hammock population and create more nesting sites for the crocodiles in the refuge. The pit was dug 30 to 40 years ago in order to obtain fossilized coral to build and decorate fireplaces and other types of architecture (much of the limestone rock was mined as well). According to an article published by McClatchy-Tribune Business News, "ever-growing piles of muck from widening U.S. 1 north of Key Largo could be used to fill in a gaping hole in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge".[5] The muck from the construction of the highway will most likely be used to help fill in the hole on the refuge. The main purpose of re-filling the hole is to populate the hardwood hammock by planting native vegetation in the area. The material referred to as 'muck' contains organic substances which will enhance the vegetation growth. Scientists in the area have claimed the substance to contain no damaging chemicals that would possibly harm animals or rather, the ecosystem.[6] Originally, US Highway 1 had evacuated the muck in order to improve road conditions near the refuge. "I feel very good about possibly being able to solve our problem and the [Department of Transportation] problem," Klett said in an interview.[5] The Department of Transportation was required to move the muck in an effort to clean-up the area; however, staff at the refuge decided to ask for permission to use the muck (layering 36 inches) for gaping the hole. As of March 8, 2007, Steven Klett has officially commenced and documented the Keystone Pit Restoration Project.


On April 13, 2007, local volunteers Joanne Potts and Clay DeGayner discovered a Burmese python inside Crocodile Lake NWR (see photo below). The 12-pound snake was uncovered from a device used to track a Key Largo Woodrat. The digested woodrat's radio transmitter lead the researchers to the python, which experts claim is the first exotic species found on the islands. “There's a good chance we never would have found him,” said Scott Hardin, exotic-species coordinator for the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.[7] “This was always my concern, what would happen when an exotic species like the python intersects with an endangered species. Here it's happened, and it has the potential to be a serious problem.”[7] Hardin later assumed the seven and a half foot snake was either an escaped or released pet by someone who realized the python "[had] become a burden".[7] Walter Meshaka, senior curator for the State Museum of Pennsylvania, stated that pythons are very good swimmers and, therefore, it seemed reasonable to assume it had swam from the Everglades into the Key Largo area refuge. Hardin is attempting to calculate if there are anymore pythons in the refuge and, if there are, he plans to either control or eradicate them.

Photo gallery

Clay Degayner's Photo Album Slideshow on the web: Refuge Pictures


  1. ^ a b c d e United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge,
  2. ^ a b FAVOR Florida Keys, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge,
  3. ^ a b c Toni Whitt, "Crocs make a comeback in Florida",,
  4. ^ a b Clay DeGayner, "Key Largo woodrat information", Cincinnati Edition,
  5. ^ a b Kevin Wadlow, "Manager: A win-win with Stretch muck: It likely will be used to fill refuge's pit", McClatchy-Tribune Business News,, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon.
  6. ^ FAVOR Florida Keys, "Intra-Service Section 7 Biological Evaluation Form",
  7. ^ a b c Kevin Wadlow, "A signal rats out Keys python",, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon.


See also

External links


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