North Carolina man visiting Florida Keys cited for taking federally-protected coral

A North Carolina man visiting the Florida Keys stole large pieces of federally protected coral, authorities said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers responded Wednesday night to a Key Largo condominium complex and issued the man a notice to appear in court for violating the Endangered Species Act, the Miami Herald reported.

FWC investigators had been tipped off that someone had coral out on a balcony at the Landings of Largo. Officers identified it as staghorn coral. The man told officers he was in the Keys for the two-day lobster miniseason, which ended Thursday night.

Staghorn coral can form dense groups called thickets in very shallow water, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The coral provides an important habitat for other reef animals, especially fish.

FWC said the coral found Wednesday was taken in for genetic testing.