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American crocodiles, once endangered, are thriving outside a nuclear plant in Florida

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WATCH ABOVE: American crocodiles thrive near Florida nuclear power plant – Jul 20, 2019

MIAMI — American crocodiles once headed toward extinction, are thriving at an unusual spot — the canals surrounding a South Florida nuclear plant.

Last week, 73 crocodile hatchlings were rescued by a team of specialists at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear plant and dozens more are expected to emerge soon.

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Turkey Point’s 270 km of man-made canals serve as the home to several hundred crocodiles, where a team of specialists working for FPL monitors and protects them from hunting and climate change.

From January to April, Michael Lloret, an FPL wildlife biologist and crocodile specialist, helps create nests and ponds on berms for crocodiles to nest. Once the hatchlings are reared and left by the mother, the team captures them. They are measured and tagged with microchips to observe their development. Lloret then relocates them to increase survival rates.

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A bucket full of baby crocodiles that were taken out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station are shown in a lab, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret demonstrates how he uses a reader to check a microchip that he implanted into a baby crocodile that came out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret releases baby crocodiles back into the wild along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station after having measured and tagged them with microchips to observe their development in the future, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla.. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret shows unique pattern cut out of a baby crocodile's "scutes" for later identification of the crocodile that came out a nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret demonstrates how he checks the sex of a baby crocodile that came out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret points out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station are shown, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Wildlife biologist/crocodile specialist Michael Lloret holds two infertile eggs that came out a crocodile nest on one of the berms along the cooling canals next to the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, Friday, July 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“We entice crocodiles to come in to the habitats FPL created,” Lloret said. “We clear greenery on the berms so that the crocodiles can nest. Because of rising sea levels wasting nests along the coasts, Turkey Point is important for crocodiles to continue.”

The canals are one of three major US habitats for crocodiles, where 25 per cent of the 2,000 American crocodiles live. The FPL team has been credited for moving the classification of crocodiles on the Endangered Species Act to “threatened” from “endangered” in 2007. The team has tagged 7,000 babies since it was established in 1978.

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Temperature determines the crocodiles’ sex: the hotter it is the more likely males are hatched. Lloret said this year’s hatchlings are male-heavy due to last month being the hottest June on record globally.

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Because hatchlings released are at the bottom of the food chain, only a small fraction survives to be adults. Lloret said they at least have a fighting chance at Turkey Point, away from humans who hunted them to near-extinction out of greed and fear even though attacks are rare.

Only one crocodile attack has ever been recorded in the U.S. – a couple were both bitten while swimming in a South Florida canal in 2014, but both survived.

“American crocodiles have a bad reputation when they are just trying to survive,” Lloret said. “They are shy and want nothing to do with us. Humans are too big to be on their menu.”

WATCH: Australian police capture 15-foot ‘cattle killer’ crocodile (Sept. 1, 2016)

Click to play video: 'Australian police capture 15-foot ‘cattle killer’ crocodile' Australian police capture 15-foot ‘cattle killer’ crocodile
Australian police capture 15-foot ‘cattle killer’ crocodile – Sep 1, 2016

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