reef2 Missing: 300,000 pounds of rock300,000 pounds of rock has been stolen from the bottom of the ocean near Alligator Light and Islamorada off the coast of Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office wish to hear from anyone who may have seen a boat harvesting the material from the site. If you have any information about this case, please contact FWC, the

Sheriff’s Office or call the Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys at (800) 346-TIPS. You can also leave an anonymous tip at https://www.tipsubmit.com/.

The stolen rocks belong to Neal Novak, 51, a Miami aquarist who leases the quarter-acre site inshore of Alligator Reef from the federal government to cultivate live rock for the aquarium trade. Unfortunately, Novak hasn’t visited his farm in a year so it is hard to know when the theft took place.

Live rock consists of dead coral rock or quarried rock colonized by a profusion of marine species. Anything from tiny bacteria to large sponges can find a home in and on this type of “living” rock, and rocks covered in colourful coralline algae are especially coveted. Saltwater aquarists use live rock to make their aquariums look more beautiful, make the ecosystem more balanced, and help keep the water quality up in the tank. Live rocks are often colonized by scavenging species that will take care of any left-over food in the aquarium before it gets a chance to foul the water. According to Novak, the wholesale price for quality live rock in Florida is about $3 per pound.

Since the harvest of live rock from the wild can hurt marine environments, Florida banned it in the 1990s and state and federal governments decided to lease barren sea-bottom sites to people interested in aqua-culturing live rock for the aquarium trade.

Novak created his live rock farm by purchasing rock from quarries in south Miami-Dade County and ferrying them to his farm where the rocks have been resting in roughly 20 feet (6 metre) of water until someone took them. The rock pile, which was designated by GPS coordinates, has most likely not been moved by natural forces, because no hurricanes have been reported from the area since 2005 and a second stone pile with immature live rock was left largely intact.

With a wholesale price of $3 per pound, 300,000 pounds of rock can naturally give a tidy little profit for unscrupulous boulder thieves.

They stole my livelihood,” Novak said. This is devastating to my whole family. It cost me almost $150,000 to put the rock down and start the business. I spent my life savings to make this work. We could be looking at bankruptcy.”