Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in
North Key Largo on April 2, 1980 to protect and preserve critical
habitat for the endangered American crocodile. The mangrove
wetlands of the refuge provide habitat, solitude, and the only
known nesting area on Key Largo for this shy reptile. Mangrove
forests fringing the shoreline also support a wide variety of
wildlife including wading birds and songbirds, as well as
serving as important nursery habitats for many fish species.

The refuge also protects a unique tropical hardwood hammock,
which supports a high diversity of plant species, 80% of which
are of West Indian origin. The refuge and the adjacent Key Largo
Hammock State Botanical Site contain the largest continuous
tract of hardwood forest remaining in the Florida Keys. Nearly
100 species of native trees and shrubs can be found in these
hammocks, more than found in some entire states! These
forests are home to several endangered and threatened
species including the Key Largo woodrat, Key Largo cotton
mouse, Schaus swallowtail butterfly, Eastern indigo snake and
Stock Island tree snail. Hardwood hammocks also provide
important seasonal habitat for migratory neotropical songbirds
and permanent homes to colorful tree snails and butterflies.

Due to the small size of the refuge and sensitivity of the habitat
and wildlife to human disturbance, the refuge is closed to
general public use. Access to the refuge for research and
organized educational groups is by Special Use Permit only. An
interpreted butterfly garden is open to public access next to the
refuge headquarters. The garden and office are located on
County Road 905 in Key Largo, approximately two miles north of
the US 1/C-905 intersection (Card Sound Road turnoff at mile
marker 106.3). The public can visit the self-guided nature trail
located at the Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site
adjacent to the refuge to see similar habitat and wildlife species.
Source - U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service
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National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys and Key West
Wildlife Management— Part Science and Part Art

Wildlife management is not a pure science though management uses the best scientific information available at
that time. Usually, the results are what is expected, however; not always. Some techniques in wildlife
management are still experimental. However, learning comes from experimentation and changes are made for
the better. Also, a proven wildlife management technique used in one area of the country may not work in another
area of the country, The first rule in wildlife management is, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Human interaction quite
often changes the balance of nature. Long before humans began manipulating the habitat in the Keys, habitat
and wildlife evolved adapting to the forces of nature—wildfires and floods for example. Humans have interrupted
these natural occurrences by suppressing wildfires to provide a more comfortable life. To correct this on the
refuges of the Florida Keys, management techniques such as controlled prescribed burns are used to mimic
natural wildfires. A side benefit to this controlled burn is a reduction in forest fuels making a wildfire a lesser
threat to adjacent homes. Another management technique is to educate boaters about how to minimize
disrupting wildlife. Where public opinion favors stronger action or when the need for stronger action is apparent,
some public use activities may be restricted if they disrupt wildlife. Where restriction is not enough, then the
activity may be banned. For example, public opinion generated the banning of personal watercraft from Key West
and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges.

Natural History of the Florida Keys       
It has taken 100,000 years for geological, environmental, and physical processes to set the stage for the current
natural environment of the Florida Keys. Specific physical conditions had to exist before this region’s biological
communities could become established and flourish into the unique plant and animal communities that
comprise this intricate anti dynamic ecosystem. During periods of warm climates, the present day Keys lay under
the surface of the ocean, flourishing at times as coral reefs. When the climate became cooler, polar ice caps
grew and the oceans receded to expose vast areas of the sea floor. Terrestrial plants and animals colonized
what was a sea bed.

The sea level remained low until about 15,000 years ago when the climate began to warm, releasing water held
in the ice caps and causing the sea to rise. About 4,000 years ago islands were created in this area and resulted
in what we call the Florida Keys.