Ike's storm surge threatens gators

October 30, 2008 5:54:51 PM PDT
The hurricane not only claimed lives and billions in property damage, the storm surge also killed and displaced a lot of wildlife along the coast. That has had a significant impact to one industry dependent upon hunting those creatures. ROAD TO RECOVERY: How you can help | Person locator | Important phone numbers | Assistance from FEMA | Filing a claim

Mark Porter usually processes the meat and hides of at least 850 alligators a year. This year, though, he processed just 340.

"They're just dying of thirst," he said. "There's no fresh water."

The fresh water marshes where gators live, from Port Arthur to Trinity Bay, were inundated with the saline-rich storm surge in Hurricane Ike.

"I think the gator population was devastated a little bit," Mark explained.

Across Chambers, Jefferson and Liberty counties, experts say there were close to 300,000 alligators before the storm. It's tough to get a true tally of the number of gators killed. Experts in the area have seen about 300 carcasses. But with the colder weather, and the gators being less active as a result, it's tough to tell how many are dead, and how many are alive.

Those which survived scrambled from the salty marshes. About 120 found a freshwater pond on Bobby Edwards' land in Port Arthur.

"I hope they'll disperse in the spring," he said.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists say the population won't return to the marshes until they get some rain.

"It can be very significant if we don't get fresh water," Amos Cooper with Texas Parks and Wildlife explained. "We need fresh water very badly."

The hurricane struck the weekend of Anahuac's Gatorfest, forcing its cancellation. Mayor Guy Robert Jackson says that cost the city ten percent of all sales tax revenue.

"That is a lot of money, yeah," he acknowledged.

Jackson fears that could mean tax increases.

When the gators return, there's still another uncertainty -- whether they will be able to survive on the reduced population of its prey, which were also hurt by the salty storm surge.

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