WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. — In an effort to keep visitors safe, Saint Mark's Refuge is urging people who come to enjoy its natural beauty and outdoor activities to have an awareness about their surroundings, especially when it comes to alligators.
Alligators are everywhere in the Saint Mark's Wildlife Refuge, even the woods.
"Things down here that you need to be aware of is like if you are off the beaten path and if it is dry here," said Terry Peacock, Refuge Manager. "Alligators do move from one pond to another, so you could encounter an alligator pretty much anywhere on the refuge even if you're not in the water."
Summertime is mating season for a lot of animals and alligators can become more aggressive as they protect their eggs.
"If you are in some of the remote areas the females will build a nest and they will guard that nest," said Peacock.
Another reason for more human-gator interactions? Food waste and trash carelessly left by people illegally crabbing.
And that bait, according to Supervisory Refuge Ranger Robin Will, is luring normally shy alligators wanting to be fed.
"We are probably going to shut down areas for 30 days to allow all this to be cleaned up and returned to its natural condition and we are going to warn the fishermen and crabbers that they need to take care of their refuge," said Will.
Gary Droze wade fishes at St. Mark's Refuge regularly and he has three rules. First he has to see where he is putting his hands or feet at all times.
"Alligators are territorial so if I know there is an area that has alligators, I need to go around it and the third thing is not be out here at night especially in the summertime," said Droze.
And if you do run across an alligator?
"Be sure that you step away quietly and exit the area. This is their home and we are the visitors here," said Will.
You can even find alligators in salt water. Peacock says alligators do not live in salt water, but they do go in salt water, like the salt flats because they are a brackish water.
There are also venomous snakes at St. Mark's Refuge like the Eastern Diamond Back rattlesnake, pygmie rattle snake and Cottonmouth. To avoid getting bit, Peacock says always look before you put your feet and hands anywhere in the refuge.