Tourist jailed for collecting seashells on Florida beach

Image source, FWC
Image caption,
It is not illegal to take the shells, if they do not contain the still-living mollusc

A Texas woman visiting Florida's Key West on holiday has been jailed after she took some seashells from the beach.

Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez, 30, was arrested by a Florida Fish and Wildlife officer after she was found with a group of children taking the protected molluscs.

She pleaded guilty to taking 40 still-living queen conch shells, telling the judge she did not know it was illegal.

Ms Fiscal-Gonzalez has been ordered to serve 15 days in jail and pay a $500 (£385) fine.

Ms Fiscal-Gonzalez apologised in court, and told the judge she had planned to clean out the shells to give as gifts to friends.

Image source, FWC
Image caption,
The wildlife officer photographed them before returning them to the ocean

Ms Fiscal-Gonzalez had been visiting from Dallas when an anonymous tipster called police on 13 July to report her for harvesting the shells.

According to a press release, a Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) officer discovered her with three plastic containers of conches.

Image source, FWC
Image caption,
Conch shells are highly-prized by shell collectors.

After photographing the saltwater organisms, he returned them to the ocean.

Many were still alive, according to the FWC statement.

It is illegal to harvest the "slow-moving, long-lived marine snail", according to the FWC, but taking their empty shells is not a crime.

The conch is an important part of Florida culture, with natives of Key West calling themselves "conchs". The local high school football team is called the Fighting Conchs.

Ms Fiscal-Gonzalez is due to begin her sentence on 10 August.

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