You are here
Home > Community > ERMD begins study of alligators in Big Cypress, Brighton

ERMD begins study of alligators in Big Cypress, Brighton

An ERMD study will focus on alligators on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations. (Courtesy ERMD)

The Seminole Tribe’s Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) wants to know how many alligators are on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations and how healthy are they. To get the data, ERMD began a scientific study of alligators in December 2021.

The study will analyze the conditions and size of suitable habitat, assess the population size and survey the health of the animals.

“Alligators are a keystone species and an ecological indicator of habitat health in Florida,” said Karli Eckel, ERMD environmental science manager. “We intend for this to be a baseline survey. Nothing at this volume has been done before.”

The department, along with a contractor who has worked with the tribe on other scientific studies, developed a timeline for the study.

From January to March, ERMD and Common Ground Ecology are scheduled to complete an analysis of alligator habitat, primarily in wetlands, canals and other areas with water. Field analysis, using geographic information system (GIS) software as a tool and boots on the ground reconnaissance, will provide ERMD with data to be analyzed. In April and May, ERMD and Common Ground Ecology are set to conduct spotlight surveys. The scientists will go into the field at night and shine lights to find alligators, whose eyes are illuminated due to the eyes’ structure. From there, they can estimate the reptiles’ sized based on the space between the eyes.

The team would then hit the ground in June and July to survey nests in the natural areas of the reservations using drones and field reconnaissance.

The data collection should be completed in July, August and September, at which time ERMD would put together a comprehensive report of the findings by the end of the year.

The study is the first that will incorporate formal climate change data for analysis. Alligator eggs are affected by temperature, which determines the gender of offspring.

“Higher nest temperatures, can yield more females,” Eckel said. “Hot chicks and cool dudes is an easy way to remember it.”

The study will record temperatures at some nesting sites, examine the microclimates, elevations and environmental characteristics of the nests.

“Alligators are one of the most resilient species on the planet and have been around for millions of years,” Eckel said. “They are a good example of a successful story of the Endangered Species Act. It will be interesting to see how future conditions will integrate with that resiliency.”

Eckel believes if temperatures continue to rise, it’s possible that alligators may move northward.

“They will shift based on their needs, like any other species,” she said. “They will go where the resources they need are found or adapt to new conditions within their existing range.”

Tribal members have inquired about the alligator population and their nesting habits on the reservations.

“Looking at alligators in this way will provide real perspective from a climate change standpoint,” Eckel said. “It will give
us insight into the health, distribution and reproductive dynamic of the population. At the end of the survey we will have an estimated population based on data. We are really excited to be able to share the information with the community.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at