Close-up with crocodiles: amazing pictures from Sidmouth’s photographer’s trip to coral reef

Crocodile on the sea bed. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Crocodile on the sea bed. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

“Do not approach crocodiles close to the side, do not touch, and remain calm and confident”. That was the advice given to Sidmouth-based wildlife photographer Mark Taylor Hutchinson as he prepared to dive with American crocodiles in the warm waters of a coral atoll between Mexico and Belize.

Crocodile. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Crocodile. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

Mark is used to diving with sharks, but ‘could not pass up the opportunity’ to capture photos of the crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, a world heritage site and the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. His trip took place before the Covid-19 lockdown.

He started out in Mexico and took the chance to photograph whale sharks, before joining a small group travelling to the remote fishing village of Xcalak. It lies in one of the last unspoiled stretches of the Mexican Caribbean coast which is also the land of drug cartels, with heavily armed troops patrolling sections of the highway.

After an overnight stay at Xcalak and a morning dive on a local reef, they sailed to Banco Chinchorro in a small craft. Their accommodation was a small fishing hut on stilts, from which they were able to go into the water and interact with some of the 400 American crocodiles that frequent the mangrove lagoons of the island.

He said: “They are used to humans to some degree as a few fishermen often feed them fish scraps.

American crocodile on seagrass. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

American crocodile on seagrass. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant


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“The famous 13-foot crocodile named Gambit was first on the scene and she tends to chase other crocs away, although eventually they do sneak back in.

“The crocs do get close and in no time, you start to observe variance in behaviour, with some crocs bolder than others.

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“Spotters watch to ensure crocs don’t sneak up on you. The larger ones seem to be more placid and tolerant.

“You do come away with a real sense of how intelligent and powerful these apex predators are, but like with all wildlife encounters, you also develop a soft spot for these living dinosaurs.

Close-up shot of a crocodile. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Close-up shot of a crocodile. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

“At night I slept out on the decking and the stars were phenomenal. Frigate birds would fly around the lagoon, but the crocs that patrolled the lagoons in the afternoons were the stars of the show.”

Crocodile taking the bait. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Crocodile taking the bait. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

Crocodile launching itself upwards. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Crocodile launching itself upwards. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

Nurse shark. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Nurse shark. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

Barrel sponges. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

Barrel sponges. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

An unspoiled reef. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

An unspoiled reef. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

The pier at Xcalak. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

The pier at Xcalak. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

The dive accommodation. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson

The dive accommodation. Picture: Mark Taylor Hutchinson - Credit: Archant

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