On Hilton Head Island, Shipyard residents on the prowl for gator feeders

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 5, 2012 

No sooner had the marshmallow plopped into the Shipyard Plantation lagoon than a 7-foot alligator on the opposite bank made a beeline for the treat.

Tommy Linn, a facilities worker at the plantation, called security.

But although he and a homeowner saw the marshmallows being tossed from a condo balcony Monday afternoon, plantation security officers didn't arrive in time to catch the scofflaws in the act, said Brian Pettersen, Shipyard's director of safety and security.

That means the number of tickets written in Shipyard for feeding alligators -- which can carry fines up to $1,062 -- remains zero.

On Tuesday, Critter Management arrived at the Brigantine Quarters lagoon to catch and kill the gator that had been fed. In May, a Georgia woman fishing in the same lagoon was bitten on the foot by an 8-foot gator, whose teeth broke several of her bones.

Since the attack, it's been a "free-for-all" on removing alligators at the plantation, which might have become aggressive because they have learned to associate humans with food, said Linn, who co-founded Critter Management two decades ago before taking the job at the plantation, where he has been for the past 10 years. So far this year, five have been removed.

"If they were to hit (alligator feeders) with the maximum fine, maybe they would understand," Linn said.

Vacationers and Shipyard residents of all ages gathered on the banks to watch Critter Management's Joe Maffo, Linn's former business partner, trap the reptile. It's easy to see why out-of-towners would be drawn to the wildlife in the lagoon, as mullet jumped in the air and a flock of egrets rested in the overgrowth along the banks.

Peter Cardamone of Philadelphia, who is vacationing in Shipyard, said people tossing food into the water for gators is a daily sight.

"I've been coming down here 10 years, and I've never seen this kind of activity with having to remove gators," he said.

State law deems that alligators whose behavior can threaten people, pets or property are nuisances and must be removed. Gators usually become aggressive when they've been fed, Maffo said.

Reminders not to fed or harass alligators have been stepped up at the plantation, with brochures handed out to renters when they arrive, Pettersen said. New yellow signs from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources also arrived Tuesday. They read: "Fed gators are dead gators."

Those warnings seemed to have taken effect for those in Tuesday's crowd. Mothers explained to their children that Critter Management would have to kill gators that have been fed. As trappers continued trying to lure the gator that had snapped up marshmallows the day before, several bystanders suggested calling security on people on the other bank who were tossing bread to turtles.

Linn said he has been encouraging renters to take pictures with their cellphones if they see food thrown into the lagoon. During Tuesday's hunt for the alligator, several vacationers had camcorders at the ready for just such a violation.

A large gator with its head protruding from the lagoon didn't get too close to the crowd. It refused the trappers' bait -- marshmallows -- and swam away with its life.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content:

Shipyard Plantation working to protect alligators and people, June 24, 2012

Georgia woman bitten by gator on Hilton Head says attack was unprovoked, May 31, 2012

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