Webmaster Tricia here, sharing some of my Notes From The Field while working with Gatorama during their Public Lands Alligator Collection. It was a unique experience that I feel fortunate to have been a part of.
Ready to work before most people even think about rolling out of bed, the North Team was fueled by the hotel breakfast which was ready and served nearly an hour before it was scheduled to be available to guests. They funneled in, dressed in their jeans and t-shirts donning their “Alligator Egg Collection” hats and ready to spend the day working in the swamp.
There were veterans that have been part of the alligator farming industry for 25+ years, skilled boat crews of men and women, a pilot and a team from the State. Their enthusiastic ‘good morning’ coming with a genuine smile as we met. I listened as they spoke about their adventures from the day before, their plans for the current day and how the week ahead was going to progress. Nervous, I grabbed my backpack of electronics and headed out with the team.
On my way out, a comforting pat on the back came with the words “You’re gonna have a great time,” which settled me into a smile as I loaded into the truck.
I was there with Allen as part of the Gatorama team. My job was simple – take photos, get film coverage and live stream the day during the #livetweet7515 event we were running.
We arrived on site (after traveling what I am sure is the longest dirt road in Floridia) and were met by Run Aground Sue, the candling pontoon, waiting patiently at the FFWC field office along with about a dozen trucks, 3 boats and a helicopter. Teams were already actively buzzing around. One group was checking their boat, another was unpacking boxes. They were checking markers, loading coolers and testing radios.
The pilot signaled for me to join him and I got a briefing about helicopter riding 101. Pro tip – don’t walk in the back. He assured me that it was ‘unlike anything in the world,” and I again smiled nervously as I unpacked my video and camera equipment for the ride. The GoPro was mounted and I slid into the back seat of a helicopter that had no doors. I fastened my seat belt.
We were off …..
From the air, technology was in full use as I controlled the mounted cameras, shot still photos and began the Live Tweet Event for Gatorama. The chatter going on was probably the one thing that surprised me the most. It was concise, directed chatter that somehow coordinated seamlessly under the direction of Allen. Boats on the ground were systematically directed to extraction points, nests were marked for FFWC records, captains were reporting back to the chopper while ground crews coordinated pickup locations and candling counts.
After a bit of flying time, I was able to start identifying nests on the ground. I considered it an achievement as it was sometimes like playing Where’s Waldo. We saw Alligators cruising the waters, Deer, a Racoon and her babies and what must have been a hundred different species of birds – all engaging with this misunderstood ecosystem and living harmoniously together. It was impressive.
But, it was time to get in a boat and experience this from water level ….
Captain Archie and his crewman Shane were kind enough to let me join them on their boat for the second collection. I again brought my bag of technology with me and quickly realized that two hands weren’t nearly enough to run all this equipment out on the water, as one hand was needed to hold on! GoPro hat cam to the rescue.
Earmuffs on, motor running and in an instant I was sliding with the Public Lands Alligator Egg Collection Team. When you’re on the air-boat, it’s virtually impossible to talk to the people around you, especially when you’re running at full speed. So you learn to read the sound of the engine.
The consistent buzz generally means the helicopter is looking for a nest and has not spotted one yet. It’s basically the sound of an air-boat holding pattern. The mood on board is light, everyone enjoying natures inhabitants and occasionally pointing out a gator head that popped below the surface as you approached.
The high pitched buzz and faster speed meant we had been called into a nest location. The mood on board immediately shifts from leisure to work mode. Shane repeatedly jumped out of the boat to help push it along in areas with tall grass, as Captain Archie masterfully maneuvered the throttle to keep our momentum going.
As we arrive at a nest location, the crew, so deliberate in their movements and efficient at the process are able to survey the area, unload a collection box and unveil eggs in under a minute. The voice drowning sound of the boat means they’re doing this in silence – speaking primarily with gestures, achieving a proficiency that only a crew who counts on their partner to protect them can achieve. Let’s face it, the possibility of an Alligator emerging from the swamp is a real and dangerous possibility.
Join Gatorama at their Annual Hatching Festival and watch the exclusive video from #livetweet7515.