National Wildlife Refuge
|P.O. Box 370
Key Largo, FL 33037
Phone Number: 305-451-4223
|Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
|Three endangered species of the Crocodile Lake NWR.|
Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 to protect critical breeding and nesting habitat for the endangered American crocodile and other wildlife. The refuge is located in north Key Largo and is currently comprised of 6,700 acres including 650 acres of open water. It contains a mosaic of habitat types including tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forest, and salt marsh. These habitats are critical for hundreds of plants and animals including six federally-listed species.
Crocodile Lake NWR is unusual in that not all of the critical habitat areas are in a pristine, undisturbed condition. A large portion of the refuge was going to be a residential development complete with canals for boating access. The dredge-spoil from the canal system was piled up in berms on the banks of the canals and became an important nesting area for the federally-listed American crocodile. American crocodiles are fairly wide-spread throughout the tropics, however, in the U.S. crocodiles are only found in south Florida and the Keys.
The refuge protects one of the largest remaining tracts of tropical hardwood hammock which is a globally threatened habitat type. These diverse forests are home to hundreds of plants and animals including the federally-listed Key Largo woodrat, Key Largo cotton mouse, Schaus swallowtail butterfly, Stock Island tree snail, and Eastern indigo snake. These species require hammocks in order to survive. Unfortunately, most of the hammocks in Key Largo have been eliminated by development which has lead to considerable population declines in these already imperiled species.
Getting There . . .
The refuge is located in north Key Largo approximately 40-miles south of Miami on County Road 905. The refuge headquarters is located 1.8 miles north of the Highway US-1 and County Road 905 split in Key Largo.
The refuge is closed to the public.
Crocodile Lake NWR focuses management efforts on habitat restoration and enhancement in order to sustain the diverse array of resident and migratory wildlife. Management programs include hammock restoration, crocodile habitat enhancement, and Key Largo woodrat captive breeding.
The refuge contains the now abandoned Nike Missile Facility which was constructed during the Cold War Era. The missile base was built in tropical hardwood hammock and is comprised of several launch pads and assorted missile-hangars and buildings. Work is underway to remove all of the pads and buildings and re-plant the area with hammock species. The project is a multi-year undertaking that will restore more than 10-acres of hammock and result in a remarkable transformation of the area when complete.
The dredge-spoil berms along the canals are composed primarily of organic peat that is ideal for crocodile nesting. However, many of the peat berms have settled since being dredged and have become covered with vegetation. Refuge staff and volunteers are removing detrimental vegetation such as swamp fern and adding peat to the berms in order to restore suitable nesting sites. The work so far has been successful as evidenced by active nests appearing at the restored sites.
A captive breeding program for the endangered Key Largo woodrat has been developed since the woodrat is exhibiting a serious decline in population size. The first stage of the breeding program, trapping woodrats, is currently underway. The next stage of the program is to breed the woodrats in captivity and subsequently release the offspring back to the wild on the refuge. The goal is to enhance the wild population so that population decline is mitigated.