Hello! My name is Brittney Sanchez. I am a junior at Florida International University in the beautiful city of Miami, Florida. I have an Associate in Arts degree in Pre-Recreational Therapy and I am currently in the Honors College pursuing a bachelors degree in Physical Education: Sports and Fitness.
I volunteered for the International Coastal Cleanup at the Biscayne National Park and the Deering Estate. This institution provides volunteers with a great opportunity to learn about the actual amount of trash that lies in our very own coastlines and waterways. Volunteers not only have the opportunity to engage in this eye opening experience, they also take part in an even greater global science project. The International Coastal Cleanup, or ICC, volunteers remove the marine debris and document everything that is collected so that the ICC can have a better idea of what kind of trash lay in the shorelines. It is important to identify how much trash, what kind of trash, and where this trash is located so that they can have a global snapshot and provide a better environment for marine life as well as our own lives. Lastly, my last costal cleanup was at Chicken Key as part of Professor Bailly’s classes.
I am blessed to have had the opportunity to engage in many volunteering opportunities throughout my life. I love helping those around me, and each one of these experiences has filled me with a greater sense of awareness and fulfillment. I strongly believe that a good life is a life lived selflessly and for the good of others. I truly look up to my parents and grandparents for showing me what it is to be selfless and generous. Although I have volunteered in many different places, I wanted to engage in a completely different experience this time around. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and volunteer for the International Coastal Cleanup. I had been wanting to do a beach cleanup for a while, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do so due to the Covid situation. After my first cleanup at the Biscayne National Park, I wanted to continue helping in many more ways. I knew that no matter how small my effort was, at least it would make a change. So, I chose to do my own pop-up clean up at the Deering Estate with the help of some friends. I came to the ICC wanting to learn more about the environment. I wanted to expand my knowledge on the effects of marine debris on the world, and my experiences definitely exceeded these expectations.
Finding volunteering opportunities during the pandemic was no easy task. However, my classmates sent multiple links to volunteering opportunities in Miami and it lead me to a website called, volunteercleanup.org. I immediately input my zip code and it redirected me to coastal cleanups around my area. After some research, I signed up for a cleanup on September 19th with my cousin. A few days later I received an email from the event coordinator, Ana Zangroniz the Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent, stating that this cleanup was already too filled up. They were not allowing any more people to take part in the cleanup because of the new Covid guidelines, and they were going to have to move the volunteers to the next weekend. I replied to her email saying that I was not going to be able to make it to the next cleanup, but I asked her to keep in touch with me for any other upcoming volunteering opportunities. To my surprise she replied in a few minutes saying that she was going to allow us to take part in this cleanup because I had responded so fast!
The week after my first coastal cleanup, some of my classmates sent information regarding volunteer opportunities in the Deering Estate and it lead me to the same website. I emailed the event coordinator, David Lotker the Recreation Leader at the Deering Estate, and I made the arrangements to clean the coastline at Deering Point on October 5th. I asked my friends if they were available that weekend so that they could join me, and they both agreed to help me clean up at Deering Point. I sent the signed volunteer forms to the event coordinator and we were set to go!
On October 14th many students from Bailly’s Miami in Miami Honors class and I set out from the Deering Estate to Chicken Key to clean up marine debris. Professor John W. Bailly was able to get canoes as well as bags for the whole class to canoe out to the island to pick up trash.
Where and What?
– Biscayne National Park:
At 8 am on September 19th, my cousin Caro and I met up with the event coordinator and a few other people at the dock at Biscayne National Park. As soon as everyone got there, Ana went over the instructions and safety guidelines. As we kayaked through the Mowry canal, we saw some trash laying on the coastline a few miles away and we decided to stop there. We got off our kayaks and headed to the coastline with our trash bags, gloves, buckets, data collection cards, and trash pickers. We worked in teams; one of us would pick up the trash and the other person would write down the type of trash we would pick up and document it on the sheet.
After a couple of hours we finally loaded the kayaks to head back to the dock. On our way back, we found some plastic chairs and pieces of a tent, so we stopped and loaded them on the kayaks. When we arrived at the dock, we weighed each trash bag and item.
After weighing everything, cleaning the kayaks, and transporting the trash into huge trash containers, we thanked everyone for the opportunity and left to get some milkshakes. To our surprise, Ana emailed us to tell us that the grand total of debris by weight was 68 pounds!
– Deering Estate:
At 11 am on October 4th, my friends Summer, Anoud, and I went to the Deering Estate to volunteer at the popup coastal cleanup. The faculty at the Deering Estate was very disorganized and did not know where to send us to volunteer. After about 45 minutes of going back and forth, we were finally helped by someone named Jared. He lead us to Deering Point and gave us instructions. Two of us cleaned up trash while one of us documented what type of trash we picked up on the Cleanswell app. This app made it much easier to document the type of trash we collected rather than using a pencil and data collection card to write down the information, which was very time consuming.
We cleaned for a few hours and we found that the most prominent pieces of trash in that area were articles of clothing and many bottle caps. Jared was very helpful and he even gave us some of his own trash that he decided to clean up. When we finished cleaning up the area, we gave the trash bags over to Jared and he discarded them for us.
– Chicken Key:
At 9:30 am on October 14th, I got to the Deering Estate to help Professor Bailly and the staff of the Deering Estate load life jackets unto a golf cart to transport them to the docking area. As soon as the whole class got there, we set out in pairs of twos to Chicken Key, I went with my classmate Roger. We quickly filled up our canoe with four bags, two wooden slabs, many containers, random small items, and a big blue rainwater collection basin.
When we made it back to the Deering Estate we gathered everyones trash and we waited for the staff to help us transport the trash and canoes. We ended up with 6 canoes worth of marine debris. Lastly, we washed off the sand bags and dropped off all of our combined trash.
These eye-opening opportunities gave me a greater sense of appreciation for our earth. In return, I was able to help maintain these marine habitats and clean the debris damaging our ecosystem. “The numbers are staggering: There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris on the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea” (Parker, 2015). Everyone should see these alarming statistics and want to do something to help.
Each cleanup taught me something new about the marine debris and how to clean up more effectively. One of the most important things I learned was the importance of working together to pick up and document the trash. Documenting the exact item we were cleaning up was very time consuming because of our inability to quickly find the item on the sheet. For this reason, we implemented a new technique in which we would be more specific when identifying the piece of trash so that the person documenting it would find it easier on the sheet.
Also, the greatest piece of advice given to me was the importance of staying hydrated. The heat can be very dangerous. It can cause excessive sweat which can lead to dehydration and even a heat stroke. Having our water bottles close by and drinking frequently helped us to stay hydrated and focused on our tasks. As well as this, skin protection is very important. After my first experience, I started to wear long sleeved shirts to protect myself against the sun.
In the future, I hope to continue to help protect the beautiful habitats within many more areas, and educate more people on the importance of keeping our earth clean! It is sad to see dead animals wrapped up in trash because of humanities inability to simply throw their trash away. We are all cohabitants of this beautiful earth, and we all need to do our part to keep it this way.
Parker, Laura. “Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain.” The numbers add up to trouble for the oceans, wildlife, and us, but scientists are struggling to understand how. National Geographic, 2015. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/1/150109-oceans-plastic-sea-trash-science-marine-debris/