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Manatees swim close to the surface and frequently come up for air. Credit: Jim Reid, USFWS.

Habitual manatee zone violator sentenced for killing a manatee in Brevard County, Florida

A Merritt Island man, who has been repeatedly cited for violating Manatee Protection Speed Zones in Brevard and Volusia Counties, was sentenced in federal court today for killing a West Indian manatee while operating his boat in violation of a manatee protection zone.

After an extensive joint investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Joseph F. Miata Jr., 62, was criminally charged by the United States Attorney’s Office, Orlando Division, in October 2010 for killing a manatee and violating the federal Endangered Species Act.  

He subsequently pled guilty and was sentenced February 2 to one (1) year federal probation and required to make a $600.00 donation to a wildlife conservation organization in Federal Court by United States Magistrate Judge David A. Baker.  Miata was also ordered to forfeit, to the government, the boat he was operating when he killed the manatee.

The investigation and subsequent charges came after the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline received a call on July 11, 2010 reporting that a boat speeding through a manatee zone in Sykes Creek near Cape Canaveral ran over and killed a manatee. The manatee was a lactating female with an approximately 10-month-old calf by her side. 
FWC officers Justin Morgan and Matthew Humphrey responded to the area that evening and stopped a boat that matched the description of the speeding vessel. They determined that Miata was the operator of the suspect vessel but initially were unable to locate the dead manatee.  

The next day, FWC Officer Mike Slotin located the body of the manatee near where it was struck, but FWC officers and biologists were never able to find the orphaned calf.
During the investigation that followed, USFWS Special Agent Neil Gardner and FWC Officer Slotin interviewed witnesses to the incident, as well as Miata. During these interviews, evidence was developed to support a federal criminal prosecution.

Federal agents served a search warrant on Miata’s Merritt Island residence on July 22, 2010, seizing his boat as evidence and holding it for subsequent criminal forfeiture, pursuant to the provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act.  According to witnesses, Miata was operating his boat at full plane through the Slow Speed Manatee Protection Zone when he struck the manatee.  The boat strike inflicted acute severe injuries when the boat’s propeller struck the manatee’s head.  

Miata had been previously cited by FWC Officer Morgan on May 31, 2010, less than two months earlier, for speeding through a manatee zone and was also cited by USFWS Manatee Refuge officers for the same violation on a previous occasion. 

“Mr. Miata is a habitual, severe offender which prompted us to work with our federal partners for prosecution,” said Capt. Steve Wayne, FWC’s area supervisor. “The federal penalties are much more severe than the state’s and we felt a violation of this magnitude deserved to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”  

“Habitual manatee zone offenders already have knowledge, which makes them subject to arrest and prosecution by our agents for killing Florida’s endangered manatees,” said Andrew Aloise, resident agent in charge for the USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement. “We will vigorously pursue and prosecute the take of manatees by those who do not slow down after being warned or cited on the water.” 

To report illegal activities involving fish or wildlife in Florida call the FWC’s toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Tipsters may remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward if their information leads to arrest.


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