Floridian Pleads Guilty To Illegally Harvesting Bahamas Corals



Courtesy of Heartbeat News


MIAMI, FL, – A 57-year-old Florida man faces up to five years in prison for illegally harvesting and importing corals from the Bahamas.

Lawrence W. Beckman, of Lake Park, Florida, recently pled guilty in federal District Court in West Palm Beach in connection with the illegal importation of approximately 500 pounds of live rock, coral, and sea fans illegally harvested from Bahamian waters.


Beckman was charged with failing to obtain written permission from Bahamian authorities, as required by Bahamian conservation laws, to harvest hard and soft coral species within the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.


According to the indictment, in October 2002, Beckman made a commercial harvesting trip from Lake Worth Inlet, Florida, to the area of West End in the Bahamas aboard his vessel the MARY ANNE. The purpose of the trip was to acquire merchandise to sell in an aquarium supply business located in Lake Park, which he owned.


After securing 500 specimens of Gorgonia, commonly referred to as sea fans, and 500 pounds of live rock and coral, Beckman steered a course for Lake Worth Inlet. Enroute, the Coast Guard Cutter Bluefin spotted the MARY ANNE running without required navigation lights and intercepted the vessel.


Coast Guard boarding officers noted 4 large drums of fuel on the deck of the vessel and multiple sets of scuba equipment. During a safety and document check, they located the contraband corals in specially equipped “live wells” and in a converted fuel tank below a hatch cover in the main cabin, and took the MARY ANNE to the Coast Guard Station at Lake Worth Inlet. Beckman admitted to the Coast Guardsmen that he had been on a commercial harvesting trip to an area about 1.5 nautical miles east of Sandy Cay in the Bahamas and that he did not possess any permit from the Commonwealth allowing him to harvest marine resources from Bahamian waters.


The Government of the Bahamas prohibits any person from taking or selling and hard or soft coral without the written permission of the Minister of Fisheries. This measure is intended to allow for the monitoring, control, and conservation of the coral resources of the Bahamian archipelagic waters. The protection extends to all coral rock, which is an invertebrate within the phylum coelenterate.


The Lacey Act, the oldest national wildlife protection law in the United States, among other things, prohibits the possession, import, and transport of wildlife, including the corals involved in this case, which has been taken or possessed in violation of a conservation law of a foreign country.


United States District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra, who accepted Beckman’s guilty plea, set sentencing in the matter for December 20, 2007. In addition to jail time, Beckman could be fined up to $250,000.


Coral reef destruction has been the subject of intense debate both within the United States and at the meetings of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty to which the United States and approximately 150 other countries are party. Loss of reef habitat, which is one of the most productive and diverse ecosystems, is a world-wide concern.


As nurseries for marine species of commercial value, as well as a source of income from recreational fishing and eco-tourists, and a protective barrier for coastlines, a significant effort is underway to preserve the existing reef structures and reverse their decline.