Florida police have arrested Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 53, for a high-profile incident which took place two months ago in the waters off St. Petersburg, Florida. Gutierrez was photographed by several bystanders as she rode a manatee through the surf "like a bodyboard."
Manatee rider arrested
Surely she's the least of the manatees' worries?
Gutierrez claims that she is new to Florida, and was unaware that it is a violation of state law to "intentionally or negligently molest, harass, or disturb any manatee." After state authorities publicized the photos and asked for the public's help in identifying the woman seen riding the manatees, Gutierrez turned herself in.
At first, state authorities held off making the arrest, because "they thought that they needed to have witnessed the incident." However, the case was kicked up to the State Attorneys Office, which apparently felt that the photographic evidence, coupled with Gutierrez's admission of guilt, was sufficient to make the arrest. Gutierrez was arrested without incident on Saturday at her job at Sears.
Gutierrez was released that afternoon on $1,500 bail. She faces either a fine of $500 or up to 60 days in jail. Many feel that the penalties are unnecessarily harsh for a 53 year-old woman who turned herself in and admitted ignorance of the law.
On the other hand, Gutierrez was probably not the first person to ride a manatee in Florida's tourist-packed water; she was just the first one to be photographed doing it, by people who then turned their photos in to the police. Maybe it's best to make an example out of her, although $500 for a manatee ride hardly seems like much of a deterrent.
And although Gutierrez's manatee ride may have been upsetting to the manatee, it certainly was nothing compared to the damage wrought by the combination of habitat destruction and outboard motors. The manatee never really had a predator until humans showed up and started draining Florida's wetlands, destroying the shorefront with construction and pollution, and tearing these peaceful animals apart with spinning propeller blades.
Granted, it's a lot easier to prosecute a 53 year-old woman who works at Sears, versus the entire maritime industry. According to a USGS report released in 2003, boat strikes are the leading cause of manatee death, accounting for up to 25 percent of all manatee deaths in Florida. Manatees which survive being struck by boats can die from infection from their cuts, or struggle to survive with "gruesome wounding" and mutilations.
But hey, Florida, if you want to jail Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez instead of actually doing something useful to protect the manatee, you go right ahead.