An Everglades National Park ranger busted two Miami residents earlier this month for allegedly poaching protected plants near the main park road in the Flamingo area.
Carlos Vazquez, 32, and Tatinishka Hatanaka, 34, were cited March 13 for removing about 100 bromeliads, or air plants, of five different species — four of them listed by the state as either endangered or threatened. They were ordered to appear before a federal magistrate in Miami. If convicted, they could be fined $5,000 and receive six months in jail on each offense.
According to Flamingo district law enforcement ranger Tony Terry, an off-duty park researcher reported seeing a man and woman loading plants into a vehicle. Ranger Justin Kingston stopped the car, saw the plants in plain view, and seized them.
Terry said people are caught poaching plants in the park on average three to four times per year, usually during the cooler and relatively bug-free seasons of winter and early spring. He said some thieves just want a souvenir, but others plan to sell the plants.
“These [people] looked like they knew what they were doing so it’s probably a regular occurrence for them,” Terry said. “It looked like a sale or resale job.”
Park botanist Jimi Sadle said the bromeliads that were taken are fairly common throughout the park and South Florida, but their removal has an impact on the ecosystem, since these types of plants take years to flower.
“It certainly has a localized impact for the bromeliad population there,” Sadle said. “It’s everybody’s park and it’s taking these resources that everybody’s supposed to be able to enjoy.”
Sadle is caring for the plants in the park’s greenhouse with plans to replace them as closely as possible on the trees and stumps where they were growing when taken.
Terry reminded park visitors to be vigilant for suspicious activity and to report it to rangers by calling 305-242-7740. To learn more about bromeliads in the park, visit www.nps.gov/ever/naturescience then click on plants in the left rail.