At Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in eastern Collier County, alligators and their newly hatched offspring climb over each other in one of the few shallow ponds along the wooden walkway.
Wading birds peck at the fish trapped in the isolated puddles, but stay clear of their sharp-toothed neighbors submerged in the mud nearby.
As Southwest Florida bakes in the dry season, wildlife officials are asking area residents to consider conserving fresh water to ensure the health of area wildlife.
“We’re at the peak of the dry season,” said Dr. Mike Knight, the natural resources manager for the sanctuary.
Knight said the alligators in the sanctuary have few fresh water options this time of year — something they depend on to regulate their body temperatures and metabolisms.
“Even the deepest areas are starting to dry up,” Knight said, adding that the rainy season typically begins sometime in June.
“People need to know that this is the time of year to think about water conservation,” Knight said. “If you live between Ft. Myers and Naples, your water supply starts in the Corkscrew Swamp.”
Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon of Florida, said the public’s water use has a direct impact on the wildlife throughout Florida.
Wraithmell said taking steps to reduce fresh water consumption, such as fixing leaky faucets, watering the lawn less frequently, using low-flow shower heads and reusing collected rainwater for lawn care helps ensure the health of fresh water ecosystems.
In addition to alligators’ survival, Wraithmell said wading birds depend on the abundance of fresh water supplies for food and nesting sites. When these nesting grounds such as cypress groves run dry, the birds’ nests become vulnerable to raccoons and other predators.
Wraithmell said conserving fresh water offers two benefits.
“It’s cheaper,” she said. “and it’s good for the environment.”