The legality of collecting and keeping coral found in Florida’s waters can confuse tourists and locals. So if you’re visiting a Florida beach. It’s essential to know the legalities of collecting and keeping coral found on the Florida’s waters.
Though most of the coral you find on the beach is probably dead, long separated from where it once grew, there are heavy fines and penalties for those who remove it (at least on most of Florida’s beaches). The problem is that most people aren’t aware what they are doing can get them in a lot of trouble.
Kids do not understand that taking coral from the beach is probably against the law. They probably don’t even know that what they’re picking up is even coral.
Mostly, it’s because coral is a vital part of areas’ ecosystems. And nothing separates dead coral from live coral. So, let’s take a closer look at what to know about Florida’s coral.
Specific Corals in Florida that You Can’t Take
Florida prohibits beach-goers from making away with any sea corals, fire, or stone corals that you or anyone else might find on the beach. But, of course, unless you are a marine biologist, you probably wouldn’t know what those things look like without seeing a picture.
Federal, state, county, and local laws fill entire bookshelves, and public beaches don’t exactly post signs everywhere warning swimmers that picking up coral on the beach might get them in a lot of trouble.
Also, while some beaches have officers that patrol the shoreline, mostly in ATVs, it’s rare to see them out on the beach at any time of day.
Most of these officers are looking for alcohol (the bottled glass variety), fights, and groups of people that may be stirring up trouble.
This is especially true on spring break. On most Florida’s beaches, you don’t see a line of officers moving across the swimmers, checking their pockets for coral. Most police out there probably know less about coral restrictions than you do.
That’s not to say it is okay to pocket as much coral as you dare. It’s just an observation, in general terms.
Why is Florida Coral so Important?
According to the Florida Museum, over 500 species of aquatic life are wholly dependent on the survival and abundance of coral reefs. These species are all federally managed, and of those 500, 4 are included in the Endangered Species Act.
There are many reasons why coral reefs in Florida and across the world are so important and valuable, and it’s not just for the species that live and die amongst the coral each year.
- Shoreline Protection
- Education and advancement of Marine Sciences
- The Tourism Industry
- Pharmaceutical medications and future possibilities
One of the reasons that people can enjoy the beauty of Florida shorelines and swim with their families, friends, or even solo is because the coral reefs help reduce the magnitude of the waves.
Of course, that may not be the best news for surfers, but no one wants to try and swim in waves that are not only huge but create powerful rip currents that are incredibly dangerous for everyone but most especially for children.
According to scientists who study coral reefs, they are many things, but most importantly, they are a wealth of knowledge. Not just knowledge about marine life and the circle of life as it goes on beneath the waves.
Scientists are making new discoveries all the time, simply by studying coral reefs. However, these precious, living organisms are a large part of a whole.
The whole is the impacts of changing weather and how people impact the natural environment.
The tourism industry is immense in Florida. And coral reefs are a part of that industry, especially when snorkeling and diving. In addition, the tourism industry brings in monumental amounts of money to the local economies. Which feeds into the larger economy.
The pharmaceutical industry is also heavily reliant on coral reefs. Many scientists believe that advancements in cancer and inflammation drugs lie in the secrets of the coral reefs.
There’s little doubt that coral reefs have the potential to offer much to the scientific community and, through them, benefit the human race.
Fisheries are also vitally important, especially for the locals and the entire state of Florida.
If it weren’t for the coral reefs, many fish species would either become extinct or migrate to other areas, leaving Floridians without a critical food source.
Are You Allowed to Take Home Shells from Florida’s Beaches?
You are allowed to bring home shells you find on Florida’s beaches. Unless those shells contain or are a part of a living organism.
If there is a living organism in your collection of shells, you must have a fishing license to take it home. Otherwise, it is illegal.
One of the most restrictive areas in Florida is Lee County. Sanibel Island is part of Lee County, which is a place overrun with shells. There is just about every kind of shell you can imagine on Sanibel Island, and some of them are restricted.
The problem is that it’s not always easy to tell what it is when there are so many shells to choose from. If you pick up the wrong shells in Lee County, you might serve jail time for the privilege.
In Manatee County, you’re only legally allowed to take home two “live” shells daily as a local or tourist. If caught taking more than that, you will face heavy fines. Saltwater fishing license holders are exempt from this rule and can take home more.
When it comes to state parks, national parks, and wildlife refuges. It’s hard to say what is legal and what is not because there are so many of them throughout the state of Florida.
If you are in one of these places, it is important to check the rules and regulations of the park before you start filling your pockets with shells or coral.
Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act
Several things are listed in the Act that beach-goers and boaters should know about before venturing anywhere near the Florida Reef Tract.
- Use mooring buoys rather than an anchor if your boat is near the reef
- If you use an anchor, move away from the reef and ensure that your anchor remains in the sand only
- Familiarize yourself with the Florida Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Map.
- Contact SEAFAN (Southeast Florida Action Network) at 866-770-7335 to report any damage to the reefs
- Use the ESRI ArcGIS mobile app
The Act is a set of guidelines and procedures for boaters, swimmers, shell collectors, and law enforcement to abide in Florida’s coral reefs.
No matter where you live in Florida. You can always refer to the map and the mobile app if you need to understand what you can do.
For the most part, you can’t just go along the Florida shoreline or out into the water, picking up and pocketing any coral you find. In most cases, it will probably be illegal in your area.
You may get heavily fined or even have to serve jail time.
By following the Coral Reef Protection Act and other regulations and laws set by local governments, you can safely enjoy all the beaches offer without risking yourself.