- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A record number of American crocodile hatchlings were counted in Everglades National Park this year, providing hope that restoration efforts are helping the once-endangered species, researchers said Tuesday.

University of Florida researcher Frank Mazzotti has been monitoring the crocodiles since 1978, a few years after the reptile received federal endangered species status.

He and a team of researchers caught 962 of the hatchlings this year in the park, nearly doubling the 554 found in 2013.

The animal’s apparent rebound led to the government’s reclassification of the species as threatened in 2007.

The crocodiles’ decline is blamed on a network of canals dug into the Everglades in the early 20th century to drain marsh water for agriculture.

The influx of saltier water increased salinity, which is harmful to the crocodiles. They otherwise can live for decades.

Restoration efforts have plugged some of the holes in the park, allowing for better water quality.

Mazzotti said that although there isn’t definitive proof that restoration efforts and the latest count are correlated, it is a good indication.

“What we hope is the lesson is that ecosystem restoration efforts can work,” Mazzotti said in a news release, adding that crocodiles are good indicators of waterway health.

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