One of the most unique creatures of the Yucatan peninsula is the American Crocodile.
Although they can be found in in areas ranging from Florida in the north, to Venezuela in the south, there are few places offering clear, shallow water allowing for up close, reasonably safe crocodile encounters in the wild. Banco Chinchorro, 36 nautical miles to the northeast of Xcalak, is one such place. It is a huge area covering close to 800 square kilometers.
These crocs have likely been living in the area for hundreds of years and have been known to swim for up to a hundred miles of open ocean in search of new feeding grounds. While many species of crocs can live in brackish, saline environments such as lagoons, estuaries and mangrove swamps, the American crocodiles have an especially high tolerance for salt water and thrive in Banco Chinchorro.
Often confused with the salt water crocodile, which inhabits Australia and many places in the Indo Pacific region, the American crocodile is generally less aggressive towards humans. Those of Banco Chinchorro have a 100+ year symbiotic relationship with the few local fisherman of the area. After being hunted to near-extinction in the past, the numbers have grown significantly since the Mexican government listed them as a protected species in 1996 with the creation of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. The croc population in all of the reserve is now thought to be at over 400 individuals and growing.
Our croc encounters, which began in 2014 at the southern end of Cayo Centro, have seen around 20 individuals in total, 13 of which normally come into contact with us, with around 6-8 visiting regularly. This number grows slowly as they become familiar with our croc guides and develop a taste for the lionfish which we use to lure them from the mangroves.
Of the 13 croc species identified, the American croc is one of the biggest, growing in length to just over 6 meters. The biggest one that XTC sees with any frequency is a fairly unruly 5 meter, 500+ kg male who has been affectionately named Godzilla by our croc guides. He is somewhat unpredictable and is quite a handful. But the other crocs cede him ground and stay away when he comes into the feeding area.
XTC Dive Center has a special dispensation from the Mexican government and is the only dive center permitted to run these trips in Banco Chinchorro. The encounters are closely supervised and regulated with at least one croc handler in the water at all times, one feeder nearby on the boat and a third spotting from the wheelhouse.
XTC collaborates with the local authorities on croc behavior, feeding habits and protections for the environment, and is influential in the conservation of the croc habitat in Banco Chinchorro.