On July 29, 2020 at approximately 08:30 PM, Investigator Chris Mattson of the FWC received information that renters of Landings of Largo (located on Key Largo) had large specimens of Staghorn Coral drying out on their balcony. Investigator Mattson immediately went into service and responded to the location. Ofc. Brett Swenson of the FWC also arrived and assisted with the investigation. They discovered a white male named Christopher Curlee of North Carolina to be in possession of the coral.
Inv. Mattson contacted Lt. Josh Peters of the Coral Trafficking Task Force (CTF). The task force is a partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida International University (FIU). Photographs of the specimens were submitted to the CTF. Dr. Cristina M Gomes (Assistant Director, Tropical Conservation Institute, Institute of Environment), and Robert Tomasetti (Department of Biological Sciences) of FIU positively identified the coral in the photograph submitted as Acropora Cervicornis (Staghorn Coral). This species is an Endangered Species Act (ESA) protected coral in which it is unlawful to possess.
Mr. Curlee was issued one notice to appear for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by Inv. Mattson. The Staghorn Coral was seized for genetic testing by the CTF. Through genetic testing the CTF should be able to determine which specific reef of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary the Staghorn Coral was harvested from; due to the lack of genetic diversity left in this Endangered Species.