For many divers, being in the water with apex predators is a thrilling and fascinating experience. Though while thousands of divers swim with sharks on any given day, bespoke crocodilian (i.e., crocodiles and their close relatives like alligators or caimans ) encounters are still reasonably rare. At the Everglades Outpost in Homestead, Florida, Chris Gillette conducts guided sessions with American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) for up to four people.
The Everglades Outpost is a legitimate wildlife rescue facility that is registered as a non-profit educational organization. It takes in, among many other animals, so-called “nuisance” alligators. These are individuals that are at least 4ft/1.2m in length and have turned up in someone’s back yard so are therefore believed to pose a threat to humans, their pets or property. As there are more than a million alligators in Florida they are deemed a healthy and stable population so, sadly, the usual way of dealing with nuisance alligators is to kill them and harvest their meat. Between 7000 and 8000 alligators die this way every year.
Luckily some trappers work with rescue facilities like the Everglades Outpost, and therefore a few lives are spared. Rescue facilities are not allowed to relocate “nuisance” individuals as they are known to return to their capture site following release. Instead, they remain in captivity, indeed still preferable to being shot dead while they’re taking a nice relaxing bath in a swimming pool!
The sizeable artificial pond the alligators inhabit at the Outpost has crystal clear fresh water, a maximum depth of around 6ft/1.8m, and temperatures in the low 20s Celsius / low 70s Fahrenheit (at the end of March). This makes photographing the animals an absolute joy! Conditions are near perfect, and backscatter appears to be a non-issue. Beautiful trees hang over the pond and provide an appealing backdrop seen through Snell’s window.
All you need for the experience is a wetsuit, mask, and snorkel. A weight belt is necessary should you want to join the alligators on the bottom or have them pass over your head. Taking a camera might also be a good idea, not just to take pictures but also as the world’s most expensive shield for added peace of mind.
*Note: This is a shortened version of an article previously published in Underwater Photography Magazine. To view the full article, please see UwP Issue 102.
To see more of Hannes’ work, please visit his website.