© 2020 Amy Sterling Casil

How Many Alligators Are There in Florida? 1.25 Million!

So, what happens when you take a 5th generation southern California native and uproot her 2600 miles away to the semi-tropical southwest Florida gulf coast?

Well … these are the “selected” shells. I limit myself to one handful per trip, only ones I’ve never gotten before. I now know the names of many of these. The orange ones are scallops. Like the little ones we eat.

So I really like Florida. It reminds me of when I was a kid in California. It’s not crowded like L.A. and Orange County have become. There’s still plenty of room for enthusiasm and exuberant displays of individualism.

This here is Gatorz in Port Charlotte. A homey, down to earth kind of place. This here below is a “gator” as in 6-foot alligator I saw crossing a divided 4 lane highway in Englewood. We have a small one that lives in one of our nearby ponds.

So I was driving down the highway on the way to walk around downtown Venice, FL and this car is stopped in front of me. Why is he stopped? What’s going on …

Ohhhhhhhhh. This massive gator was just completing his stroll across the busy, divided highway. I managed to get my camera out to capture him just as he hunched his massive body and started to insert his snout into the bushes by the side of this big housing development. This guy was just owning the entire road. I had only seen big gators sunning themselves before and this guy’s massive, catlike muscular movements amazed me.

So, not being an expert or anything, what I have to say is that these animals are in no way awkward, lumbering, or “slow.” No way could a person outrun a determined gator. So let ’em be. I am in awe and I learned — there are 1.25 million alligators in Florida. They are no longer endangered.

So, I see sea turtle nests on all of our beaches. Everyone who knows me knows my feelings about any type of turtle or tortoise, but I especially love sea turtles. On our honeymoon in Kauai, I got to snorkel around the island and I was able to swim right alongside a sea turtle for at least 2 minutes. They are so graceful and gentle and powerful.

So you can’t really see in this longer-distance picture, but there are sea turtle nests all along the green strip of vegetation on the beach. This is Don Pedro Island, one of the state parks you can get to only by boat.

I’m anything but an expert but one of the things that decided me about leaving California for Florida (among the many, many things) was that my impression after only a week’s visit to SW Florida was that the environment in Florida was a lot healthier than California. For someone who’s spent her whole life outside in California and seen the degradation of the 60s and 70s and the renewal of conservation and clean air efforts — whatever battle it was, is one I think that has been at least temporarily, lost. Not only is there what I glumly called “the diaper zone” in all hiking areas (a 1–2 mile radius around any parking area where you’ll find discarded diapers, beer cans, bottles, etc.), we went to Sanibel and Captiva in January because I’d finally gotten fed up with searching for the least, tiniest sea shell up and down every beach in the state at all hours of the day and night.

If people don’t think there’s something “wrong” with the fact that there are no sea shells on California’s shores — I could find no “official” information about this, and while younger people at conservation organizations would readily say they agreed with me — the shells are GONE — this isn’t something that I can currently find any information about. But trust me. Seashells were never as numerous on California beaches as they are on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but they were there. Now?

Nothing.

I wanted to come to Florida not just for the shells but everything else. The clean, soft white sand beaches, the kindly (at least when there’s no storm) Gulf waters, the sun (sure — it’s Skin Cancer central — what do I care?) and the incredible variety of wildlife. Not just the 1.25 million gators but the birds, the fish, the rays, the dolphins, the manatee. The little dark bunnies and the petite dark squirrels. The gopher tortoises and sea turtles.

This is the Tiki Hut white bird (great egret). There’s another one just like him who hangs out at Pinchers in Fort Myers Beach — that guy’s named Henry. This right here is Henry, waiting for his oyster. He likes shrimp and oysters — who wouldn’t?

There is an additional group of fellow residents here in Punta Gorda with whom we share the community. I haven’t gotten a good shot of the young dolphins that fish in the early morning or evening in our canal. But I have gotten some pictures of the birds. We’ve got Big Boy the massive Muscovy duck and his girlfriends (there’s another younger male whom they prefer, but Big Boy, a distinguished older gentleman, occasionally gets them back — as captured here on camera).

Big Boy was living under my Jeep for a while … but he’s moved back to a larger pond nearby.

So if you are out on the water you’ll see a lot of water birds, like this cormorant. They like to sit on the channel markers and dry their wings.

The waters are literally full of fish — all kinds of fish — all ages, all sizes, all types, from snook to snapper and grouper.

It is really hard to take a good picture of a moving animal in the surf but I was glad I got this picture of a young brown ray. I saw these guys “playing” in the surf in January and thought “they’re so active!” No doubt — these were males chasing females to catch them and mate.

Having petted any number of rays, they don’t feel anything like what you’d think. They’re warm and their skin feels like skin. You can feel how strong their muscles are. They are obviously intelligent and have very distinctive personalities.

Which brings us to — this is my best picture of a manatee. There is a large group that gathers at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva.

Manatees are exactly what people say: “the cows of the sea.” There’s obviously a strong bond between mother and calf. These animals spend most of their day grazing and they are — let’s see, how to say it politely — not the most active creatures in the world. They basically float in shallow water and eat sea grass. The rules for all the canals, marinas, docks, and intercoastal waterway anywhere around here are meant to protect the manatee from harm and preserve the sea grass they depend on. So many fish live in this seagrass, too.

In addition to these animals, we have chickens (white Ibis) which flock exactly like chickens but are Egyptian-appearing birds, and an unbelievable array of sea and shorebirds, from sanderlings to sandhill cranes.

I was walking on the beach on Manasota Key and came across a sandhill crane observing a boy of about 10 who was fishing. The crane was gauging his angle of attack if the boy had managed to catch a fish. I didn’t have my phone or I would have taken a picture of this amazing scene.

And we have many pelicans, both white and brown.

The one at the bottom left of the frame had sidled near to Bruce on the beach and was looking at him with a profoundly loving expression. He seemed like a young, naive and affectionate pelican. I hadn’t realized until I came across this friendly group on Sanibel Island how pretty pelican faces really are. They have a light covering of fur-like feathers and really gentle-looking, soft eyes.

Which brings me to dolphins. I can’t say I have any one favorite type of animal over another. To me, all animals are wonderful and I’ve even managed to overcome my instinctive dislike of horseshoe crabs. I keep telling myself, “maybe they are really nice despite the way they look.” But I really love dolphins. Those we had plenty of in So Cal. The dolphins here on the Gulf are supposedly the same common dolphin, but they seem smaller and livelier. This is my best dolphin picture, from the Everglades.

Yeah yeah I know. Well at least my thumb isn’t in the picture.

So as I noted, we have a couple of juvenile dolphin who fish in our canal in the early mornings and at dusk.

So, I have only been living in SW Florida for a little over two months and visited for a week in January and I have already got a huge number of pictures of animals and birds.

There are so many state, local, and city parks and beaches here. And they’re all free or very low cost to visit. When I first went to Sanibel, I was stunned.

“You can pick up the shells on the beach?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the ranger at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (worth a post on its own — I’ll get ‘round to it). She explained anyone was welcome to collect any empty shell, but leave living animals on the beach. Having been “fooled” by at least three massive lightning whelks burrowing into the sand, it’s very possible to pick up a perfect-looking shell that looks perfect because it contains a living animal.

So every day there are hundreds of thousands of new shells on the beach. People pave with shells here. The very land of Florida is made from sea creatures (coral and shells). The mangroves and the shells make new land. That is the Everglades 10,000 Islands (where the dolphin picture was taken).

People fish here, heck they fish all day and night long and guess what? There’s fish being born and growing all the time. There are thousands of tiny sprats hiding under the docks outside our small place and this is just one dock among thousands within a mile of here.

So, you know how they talk about Florida in California and on the news. Florida is full of stupid rednecks, right? It’s full of flesh-eating bath salt maniacs and people who get DUIs on riding lawnmowers.

Well. I moved from a place that was rapidly becoming totally hostile to natural life and human life — my native born home, California.

And I don’t see any of those things here. I have yet to meet a stupid, ignorant person here in Florida and I have met a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable, and caring ones. I see nature and animals thriving here. I feel the life here.

I can’t describe this feeling adequately, but maybe you’ve felt it. I’ve felt it several times here, from the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel Island to Don Pedro Island and the Everglades. I’ve felt it driving along country highways on the way to unspoiled, uncrowded beaches. It’s a feeling of wordless, overwhelming joy in life. It’s the feeling where you know there is something more, something vastly bigger than your own small self, and that there is a force of life and nature that’s all-encompassing and so, so powerful.

I’ve felt it on Kauai too. But it had been many years since I felt it in California.

And that makes me sad. Because my former home was once one of the most beautiful and life-filled places on the planet.

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

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