Rock Bandit's $1M Stone Swipe

Reef thief lifts 300,000 pounds of rocks from ocean floor

By Brian Hamacher
|  Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009  |  Updated 11:31 AM CDT
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Rock Bandit's $1M Stone Swipe

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Over 300,000 pounds of live rock were stolen from an underwater aqua farm off Islamorada.

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Keys cops can't believe a bandit had the stones to steal 300,000 pounds of decorative live rocks worth over $1 million from the bottom of the ocean.

Officials with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission are trying to find the reef robbing thief who took the rocks from an aqua farm three miles offshore of Islamorada over the past 18 months.

The farm belonged to Miami boat captain Neal Novak, who had invested over four years and $100,000 into the project.

"I've lost my livelihood," Novak told the Miami Herald. "I put over $100,000 into the company and now I might have to go bankrupt."

The rocks, used in salt-water aquariums and reef tanks, sell for about $3 per pound wholesale and $8 per pound retail. It takes between three and five years for the ocean life to grow on them.

"As far as I know, this is a first in the Keys," officer Bobby Dube, spokesman for the FWC, told the Herald. "We've caught people bringing in live rock, but not stealing from someone's aqua farm."

The theft is considered grand larceny of farm animal aquaculture species, a third-degree felony.

"It's fishy nobody saw 300,000 pounds of rock being removed," said Karrie Carnes, a spokeswoman for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Novak, who said he wished he'd checked on the uninsured farm more often, admitted he's hit rock bottom with the project.

"About 30 to 50,000 pounds are left, basically just rubble left in the sand," he said. "That's all I have left of five years of work. It's financially ruined me."

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