Endangered Crocs Make A Comeback

Baby crocodile
A remote corner of southern Florida is crawling with crocodiles. You can see them lurking in the brush and swimming in the swamps. It is the cradle of a crocodile baby boom.

CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports for crocodile researcher Joe Wasilewski, it's proof of a big-time comeback.

The American crocodile, with an undeserved reputation as a man eater, is the alligator's shy, reclusive cousin. It's a species that, 30 years ago, was on the brink of extinction in the U.S.; and, until a few months ago, an endangered species.

Now, it's the height of hatching season, and it's Wasilewski's job to catch and catalogue the hundreds of baby crocodiles that have come out of their shells. He's the crocodile caretaker at Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. Yes, you read right. The nuclear power plant has become the main breeding ground for a giant lizard.

"Like a Godzilla movie," laughs Kevin O'Hare of Florida Power and Light.

You could call it a nuclear accident. When Florida Power and Light built its plant, the company also created a cooling system for it: 169 linear miles of canals and soft berms.

"i think what you'll fins is that it has the side effect of creating a great environment for the crocodiles," O'Hare says.

The high ground is so ideal for laying crocodile eggs that Turkey Point has become an enormous crocodile nursery. It's now home to about 500 full-grown crocodiles — a quarter of the country's entire adult crocodile population.

Take, for example, 16 crocodile hatchlings all born from the same nest. A year from now, once they are back in the wild, only one of two will still be alive. How many will make it to adulthood?

"They are so tiny when they hatch that everybody wants to eat them — birds, fish, crustaceans. You know, different crabs and their own worst enemy are crocodiles," Wasilewski says.

Here, at least, the manmade dangers are gone. No roads where they can get run over, no public access for would-be poachers and no land for sale to developers.

"The natural world can co-exist with this power plant or with industry ... and thrive," Wasilewski says.

It is a crocodile paradise ... where you'd least expect it.