There are an estimated 90,000 estuarine or saltwater crocodiles in the Top End, far more than other tropical areas of Australia, and they continue to present a real danger to humans. “Salties”, not to be confused with the smaller and much less threatening “freshies” (freshwater or Johnston crocodiles), can live in both salt and fresh water and grow up to 6m long. They have superb hearing, can see in the dark (and underwater) and are able to stay submerged for over an hour waiting for dinner to walk by.
Most crocodile-infested waters are already well signposted, with two types of warning signs essentially saying “don’t swim here” or “swim at your own risk”. Those who ignore this advice (more often locals than tourists) run the risk of becoming a statistic. One such statistic was a 23-year-old female German backpacker who was killed by a 4.5m saltie in 2002 at Kakadu, after her tour guide, ignoring the warning signs, took his group for a midnight swim near Nourlangie Rock. Seven years later, in 2009, an 11-year-old girl was killed while splashing about with friends at Black Jungle Swamp in the Litchfield area, and more recently a Darwin IT worker met an inopportune end when swimming in the Mary River in 2013. So far, the Territory Government has resisted the idea of culling, relying on a policy of education and removing “problem crocodiles”. Its “crocwise” campaign (nt.gov.au/becrocwise) includes the following advice:
- only swim in designated safe swimming areas and obey all crocodile warning signs
- always stand a minimum of 5m from the water’s edge when fishing and camp a minimum of 50m away
- never prepare food or wash dishes at the water’s edge; dispose of all food scraps and waste away from campsites