Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Homestead has been credited with supplying the region with electricity for 50 years. It’s an enduring feat that can sometimes overshadow the utility site’s decades-long legacy in wildlife conservation. Since the Crocodile Management Program at Turkey Point was established in 1978, the number of American crocodile nests documented across FPL’s 11,000 acres has grown exponentially, from one or two in those early years to 33 in 2022.
“The American crocodile was downgraded on the endangered species list from ‘completely endangered’ to ‘threatened’ in 2007 in large part to the conservation work that we do here at Turkey Point,” explains Mike Lloret, a wildlife biologist at FPL who specializes in crocodiles. “This is just a reflection of FPL and their investment in environmental stewardship. Large corporations taking care of the environment—it’s conservation of the future.”
Lloret has worked with FPL for more than five years, but his fascination with local wildlife dates back to his childhood. As a kid, he spent his days exploring South Florida’s canals with his grandfather, studying the diversity of the fish, birds, and reptiles they encountered. Of all the area’s wild creatures, Lloret says he is especially drawn to crocodiles, which can only be found nationally in South Florida (owing to the species’ aversion to cold weather).
“They’re so misunderstood, underappreciated, and often overlooked,” he says of the scaly vertebrates. “The numbers are completely stacked against them. However, when they hatch, they already know how to hunt and swim. They’re evolutionarily wired to survive.”
A nuclear power plant might seem like an unlikely site for wildlife conservation. But the vast majority of Turkey Point’s property consists of undeveloped freshwater wetlands that are inhabited by more than 60 species, including 17 on the endangered list. The 168-linear-mile cooling canal system that removes heat produced by the plant has become an unexpected sanctuary for crocodiles, perhaps because it’s free of some of the species’ biggest threats (think: development, road collisions, and flooding). The area’s elevated and maintained berms have proven to be an ideal nesting habitat for the cold-blooded reptiles, too.
“There’s no big fenced-in area,” Lloret says. “The crocodiles can come and go as they please, whether it’s walking or swimming.”
Lloret is part of FPL’s Environmental Services team that oversees everything from conducting adult crocodile counts to water sampling the cooling canals to clearing nesting sites of overgrown vegetation. But crocodiles aren’t the only species he encounters.
“We’re dealing with all different types of calls, whether it’s relocating rattlesnakes [or] removing invasive species like Burmese pythons and tegus,” Lloret says. “There’s no average day. Every day is different, and that’s the beauty of it.”