Paying the Price


A Florida boater was ordered to forfeit his boat and serve one year’s probation for killing a manatee near Merritt Island.

In February, Joseph Miata, Jr., 62, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for speeding through the Sykes Creek Manatee Refuge last summer and killing a female manatee who was nursing a ten-month-old calf. The case marks Florida’s first conviction for striking and killing a manatee in the 40 years since the Endangered Species Act was passed.

Miata, who has received several tickets for speeding in manatee zones, was ordered to surrender his Freedom Boats Mach 1 to the federal government, pay a $600 fine to a wildlife conservation group, and serve one year of federal probation.

Miata was arrested after witnesses reported a boat operating at full speed through the wildlife protection zone. Investigators matched Miata’s 20-footer to witness descriptions and filed charges when they found the mother manatee dead from a propeller strike to the head.

Miata had been cited just a month earlier for speeding through the same slow zone, about 100 yards from where he killed the manatee. “He was a habitual violator, and we caught up with him,” said Capt. Steve Wayne of the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Officials say 83 manatees were killed from boat strikes in Florida last year. This case was extremely rare because witnesses linked Miata’s boat directly to the dead manatee. Wildlife investigators don’t typically get such strong evidence.

Miata faced a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a fine of $100,000, and an additional year of supervised release.