Okefenokee Swamp | Blackwater, National Geographic Magazine: American Alligator

Looking straight down on a gray alligator resting in shallow bright red water.

An American alligator suns in the shallow, tannin-rich waters of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. The mahogany-red hue of the water which, when reflective looks like black coffee, is caused by the acid released from decaying vegetation.

An adult alligator can reach 8–12 feet in length and weigh 400 to 500 pounds. The primitive reptile was nearly hunted to extinction for sport and for its leathery hide, which is used for shoes and purses.

Established in 1937, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge protects the waters, wilderness, and wildlife of the 402,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp.