Jesse Velazquez: Art Service Project 2021

Student Bio

Currently studying biology with a minor in marine biology and chemistry at FIU, Jesse Velazquez has hopes of studying and preserving the wildlife in America. With an appreciation for music and nature, he hopes to educate himself in the arts for a deeper connection to the world. Always open to learn, Jesse enjoys creative conversation about the systems we live in and the changes we can make.

Who & How

Professor John Bailly is an Artist in Residence Fellow at the Deering Estate. Next to the vast on-site nature preserve and accessibility to the Biscayne Bay, he has been able to make a deeper connection with the real Miami. Several excursions to Chicken Key have inspired him to host field days in which he brings students to clean up the island. When I heard of his next scheduled cleanup, I had to join! Luckily I was able to message the professor in time to claim my spot.


The more I progress throughout my college career, the more I have learned to appreciate Miami. Not only is south Florida home to many diverse ecosystems not seen anywhere else, but it is a city with a rich history despite its relatively short time established.

The everglades contains over a million acres of preserved landscape, housing hundreds of species of flora and fauna that do not congregate anywhere else in the world. Only a few miles away coral reefs line the eastern coast of South Florida all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. This reef is the largest system in the continuous United States.

These beautiful landscapes must be protected for future generations to enjoy. This past summer Biscayne Bay had a massive fish-kill event caused by low oxygen levels from the loss of the essential seagrass beds. If these trends continue, the natural biodiversity of the area will not be able to bounce back. With another fish kill event likely coming this summer according to many scientists, it is essential to take action now.

As a student of the biological sciences with a minor in chemistry and marine biology, I have always been interested in the ocean and the outdoors. My favorite memories have always been tied to times by the coast or deep in forests when I forget about civilization. I have learned the role humans have had in the depredation of the environment and I believe it is our job to reverse the wrongs we have made, if not we will not allow future generations to thrive. Pollution is one of the lead causes of environmental degradation. A great way to combat this firsthand is to participate in coastal cleanups. I believe my best efforts to helping the community is working towards a cleaner Miami.

Where & What

On April 17, 2021 I joined Professor John Bailly and other Honors students on a kayak clean up trip on the small mangrove island of Chicken Key.

When I first got to Deering Estate, Baily and the Deering Estate staff already had all the canoes and supplies ready for us. We loaded up the boats and got the bags ready for our cleanup. Once we hit the water, Monica Barletta and I led the way to Chicken Key. With the wind on our side, we made it to the small mangrove island in great time.

At the island Professor Bailly reminded us about the importance of beach cleanups and the significance of the small island. On a recent trip to the key, Bailly noticed small turtles along the key’s coast. Excited to show his discovery, Bailly unknowingly discovered a hatching site for the Diamondback terrapin. This turtle species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and endangered in many eastern states (Diamnondback). This small island proved to be an integral location for the native population.

Our cleanup efforts help protect this land for the turtles and prevent invasive predators like rats and raccoons from making homes out of the marine debris.

Before we started, we took a refreshing dip in the water. This also reminded us of the important sea grass communities in Biscayne Bay. These sea plants oxygenate the saltwater. The massive fish kill event last summer was called by the anoxic environment created by the degradation of these sea grass communities and the algae in the water. Sea grass also provides nourishment for sea turtles.

We started on our cleanup and even though a clean-up had been done only a week prior, the island was still riddled with large pieces of plastics. I found broken glass, countless water bottles, containers for chlorine in pools, and more. I was very much hoping the chlorine was already used when tossed in the water, as chlorine pollution is detrimental to many sea habitats. Chlorine  causes lesions and burns in aquatic life, harming their gills and ability to “breathe” underwater.

We found large plastic containers and Professor Bailly even found a large mattress home to a family of rats. The fight against rats continues to be an ongoing battle in this small island. There are traps and wildlife cameras around the island to monitor and hopefully remove these rodents.

Once we filled our canoes with the collected trash, we made our way back to the Deering Estate. Here we were able to put together all the trash we found and really get a good look at all the trash. As sad as it is to see trash plague our waters, it felt good to see the difference we made. We all helped load the back of the country truck and put all the plastic where it belonged, in designated waste areas.

Honors College and the collected plastic waste. Photo taken by Annette Cruz of FIU Honors



Now that I know how to get to Chicken Key, I will be returning soon on my personal kayak with friends. I hope to inspire them to pick up after themselves, especially at the beach, as we may do a pick-up of our own. I will make sure to do my part and bring back the trash I see to continue this cycle of betterment for the environment.

I am extremely grateful for Professor Bailly planning out the day and leading us on this amazing day. Not only do I feel like I’ve made a real difference with some close friends from class, but it was great to end the semester on such a high note. Art Society Conflict was the only class that I was truly excited to participate in. With a whole year of lifeless screens and no personal connections to any of my educators, it was refreshing to have a professor that inspires you to go out, explore, and make a change.


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