Esmeralda Iyescas: Miami Service Project 2021

Photo taken by Esmeralda Iyescas at Chicken Key/ CC BY 4.0


My name is Esmeralda Iyescas and I’m in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Information technology from Florida International university. Aside from technology, some of my other interests include gardening, paining, volunteering, swimming, and reading.


For my service-learning community service hours, I volunteered for two beach cleanups located in south Florida. The first location I volunteered at was at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park located in Key Biscayne, Florida. Bill Baggs is a local park that is protected and ran by the State of Florida. The second location where I volunteered at was at Chicken Key, an island off the coast of the Deering Estate located on the Biscayne Bay. I volunteered for this clean up with several students from the FIU Honors college. Professor John Bailly was kind enough to extend an invitation to an initiative he organized to cleanup Chicken Key.


Though I am a computer major, I have many outside hobbies that have influenced my passion to keeping the environment clean. On my free time, I swim, fish, jog, bike, play tennis, paint, and volunteer. If not all, most of these activities I do outside, and while performing these hobbies, I noticed how much more polluted our environment has gotten with time. I hate seeing people litter and my community being scattered with trash. For this reason, I have learned how my contribution to my community is very important through volunteer service.

I really love Miami and all that it has to offer, but one thing I wish was improved was our pollution crisis. Even though it is a crisis that affects the world-wide globe, keeping our city clean is the start to creating a more sustainable way of life. I will continue to participate in volunteer opportunities in the South Miami/ South Florida area as often as I can because I know that even the small efforts make a big change in the long run. I encourage my friends and peers to also take the time to find opportunities to clean up our planet because this way of life is not sustainable for a healthy future.


Currently, community service opportunities have been rather limited due to the fact we are still in a pandemic and adapting to the changes. With that being said, beach cleanups have been one of the few volunteering opportunities that are still mostly available for locals since it does not interfere with the COVID-19 pandemic CDC guideless that include social distancing and the mandatory use of a facial mask.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park:

For last semester’s service project, I had reached out to Park Ranger Shane Zigler for any volunteer opportunities that may be offered through the park. He was very kind in welcoming me to the park and offering me several hours of community service for cleaning up the park and the beach. This semester, I reached out to Park Ranger Zigler again and decided to host my own event. I contacted about 40 members from the Tau Sigma Honors Society and relayed the community service opportunity to them. Fortunately, I was able to get about half join me in serving Bill Baggs Park for a beach cleanup on March 13th, 2021.

Chicken Key:

Professor Bailly organized a beach cleanup for the Chicken Key island and asked my Miami in Miami class if anyone was willing to participate in the event. Since I had enjoyed the last Chicken Key clean up so much, I jumped on the opportunity and relayed my interest in attending. Luckily, I was able to be one of the few students from my class to participate in the clean up on April 17th, 2021.


Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park:
Photo taken by Esmeralda Iyescas at Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park/ CC BY 4.0

Since I was organizing the event, I had all the attendees meet me in the Key Biscayne park, Bill Baggs. Once all the attendees arrived, we were split up into small groups of 2 so that we could cover the entire island and abide by the CDC social distancing guidelines.

I paired up with my friend and we started collecting trash around the parking lots because many people litter there. Once we had cleaned up the entire parking lot section, we moved up towards the fishing pier. As many times as I have volunteered and been a visitor at Bill Baggs, I was never aware they had a fishing pier for the visitors. Though the fishing pier was a refreshing little discovery, it was unfortunate to see how littered the pier was with fishing line, plastic bait, and empty beer cans. I obviously picked up the trash that was scattered in the vicinity but also encouraged the fishermen to dispose of their garbage in a respectful manner and use the trash cans that are meticulously placed around the park to facilitate proper disposal.

I continued to pick up trash through one of the walking/biking trails located in the far end of the island. I noticed that there were a lot of empty bottles and potato chip bags scattered within the bushes and plants. It was truly disheartening having to pick up that much trash from our local park as a result of people not caring for the environment.

In the picture above, you can see that I have a one-gallon plastic pail, I filled about 3 of those within the span of 2 hours. I felt extremely satisfying picking up that much trash, but on the same note, I was absolutely devastated that there was that much trash scattered around the island. It was even sadder to realize that Park Ranger Zigler and his team, and all the weekly volunteers, are caught in an unfortunate endless cycle of picking up after inconsiderate people. 

Chicken Key:

On April 17th, 2021, I arrived at the Deering Estate and met up with Professor Bailly and the rest of the FIU Honors students. Professor Bailly paired us into a group and reminded us all of the safety precautions and rules once for canoeing. We then got ready to leave from the Deering Estate to the Chicken Key island on our canoes. Though the day was absolutely beautiful, and the weather was perfect, there were some rather strong currents in the Bay that made canoeing to the key a little tough. Nonetheless, we were able to stop and see the mangroves and spotted some osprey and pelicans on our way to the key.

As my partner, Lorena, and I were trying to maneuver the canoe towards the island, we saw a lot of coastal debris such as pallets, rope, and large chunks of plastic. This was less debris than my previous times attending the Chicken Key cleanup, so made me very hopeful that perhaps there would be less trash on the island too.

Upon arrival, I noticed that indeed there was less trash on the coast but as I walked around the island, it was still heavily polluted. One of the biggest problems with the plastic debris that with time, they break apart into smaller pieces and form microplastics.  This is extremely detrimental for the surrounding wildlife and the overall marine ecosystem. Luckily, as we walked around the island picking up trash, I was able to collect a good amount of microplastics and larger pieces of plastics too.

As we collected trash and filled our trash bags, we started loading them onto the canoes. The trash bags and other larger pieces of trash quickly accumulated to large piles of litter on our canoes. It brings me much joy to know that the island is significantly cleaner when we leave because it reminds me how impactful our contributions are to the environment.

Once we left the island, I could quite literally see the difference we made because the island was significantly cleaner than when we arrived. It brought me a lot of joy to see the students padding away from the island with canoes full of trash and our contributions for the day resulted in a close to immaculate little key.


Screenshot of the hours completed and approved from the MyHonors website


Photo taken by Lorena Cuenca of Esmeralda Iyescas / CC BY 4.0

This semester, my community service only consisted of beach clean ups around the Miami area. I would generally prefer a little diversity in the volunteer opportunities but taking into consideration the limitations set by the pandemic, I am grateful I was able to participate in an in-person volunteer event. 

Frankly, I found it baffling that even with all the restrictions placed upon us due to the pandemic, the quantity of trash is the same if not more. I wish the culprits would understand the detrimental effects these small actions of littering have on our environment. Personally, serving for my community always reminds me how humbling the experience is because one quickly realizes how each decision, we make affects the world around us. For example, in Miami, we have a very serious pollution crisis, and I have observed that a significant number of people ignore the current environmental crisis. On the other hand, I am grateful for the individuals who recognize this problem and who are willing to dedicate a couple of hours of their time to volunteer and contribute towards a solution.

These experiences and opportunities have allowed me to learn and grow, and I will help inform and educate other people on the environmental crisis. I will make it my duty to keep volunteering and aiding my community in any way possible because I really care and love my city and this earth. We had a common responsibility to maintain this earth clean and healthy, if we work together, we can accomplish our environmental goals.

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