On Wednesday something rare happened in an Orlando federal courtroom: a boater was sentenced for killing a manatee.
The defendant, Joseph Miata Jr. of Merritt Island, was a "habitual, severe offender" of the slow-speed zones set up around his area to protect manatees, according to federal wildlife officers.
To make matters worse, the area where a witness saw him hit the manatee is a manatee refuge. And the manatee he killed had been nursing a 10-month-old calf.
Although killing -- or even injuring -- a manatee is illegal under the Endangered Species Act, this is only the second time since the ESA became law in 1973 that any boater has been successfully prosecuted for what happens nearly every day in Florida's waterways. The first case, which dates from 1985, is related in great detail in "Manatee Insanity."
Why does an allegedly tough law get so little enforcement? Law enforcement officers say it's tough to make a case when there's usually no crime scene or witnesses. So the best they can do is persuade all boaters to slow down and keep a sharp eye out when manatees are present. Until they're successful, though, every year that the number of boats in Florida increases, you can expect the number of manatees hit and killed to increase too.