The civilian captain of a Navy tugboat is having to pay a $10,000 fine for importing coral and giant clams he had harvested in Kwajalein.
John Barrett Travers admitted that he collected live coral and giant clams in 2012 to send to his home in Florida and give to friends in California.
"I'm sorry I broke the law. At the time I didn't know it was illegal," Travers said at his sentencing Monday.
U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi told Travers ignorance of the law is not a defense. She also told Travers the corals and clams are not just mementos.
"These are precious, protected animals," she said.
In addition to the fine, Kobayashi sentenced Travers to two years of probation.
Travers admitted that while in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in September 2012, he and three crewmen went to one of the islands that make up the Kwajalein Atoll on the tugboat's inflatable dinghy. He said he broke off pieces of live coral and collected giant clams from the waters surrounding the island.
Federal prosecutor Marshall Silverberg said Travers went into the ocean wearing scuba gear and shook the coral until he was able to free the clams.
"If this happened in Hawaii, people would be going nuts," he said.
Silverberg said Travers allowed other crew members to use the dinghy to collect their own coral and clams.
One of the crewmen who saw what was happening and who saw pieces of coral being bleached inside a 55-gallon drum, reported what he saw in an email to his employer in San Francisco. The crewman also sent video.
When the tugboat and crew docked in Honolulu in November 2012, officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were waiting. They seized 21 giant clams and 56 pieces of coral.
Travers told them he bleached the coral to rid them of odor.
Importing giant clams, some types of coral and other animals and plants that could face extinction if their international trade is not regulated requires a permit.
Travers and his crew have a security clearance from the U.S. Coast Guard to be in Kwajalein to perform their roles in U.S. military missile defense tests.