Angelo Gomez: Miami Service Project Spring 2021

Hello everyone, my name is Angelo Gomez.  I’m nineteen years old and born here in Miami of Colombian descent. I’m currently a junior at Florida International University majoring in Political Science and Journalism.  I am interning as a reporter for the South Florida Media Network at FIU.  I enjoy learning new things and concepts. I love to travel even though I don’t do it often enough. I’m a huge Marvel and Star Wars geek, a history nerd, and a soccer enthusiast.

WHO
For my Chicken Key Service Project, I volunteered with Professor John Bailly’s Finding Miami course for the Spring 2021 semester. It was a group of nearly fifteen FIU students from multiple courses.

WHY?

I chose this specific volunteering opportunity because I love nature and especially, the ocean. So, when I was told about the opportunity, I knew that I wanted to visit Chicken Key and help clean up trash and debris that landed on the island from the ocean. Since the island is uninhabited, it is important to keep the island as clean as possible so the wildlife can live and grow safely within the bounds of their land. Despite not relating to my Journalism major, I am passionate about the environment and the preservation of nature, so naturally this was a topic I am interested in deeply.

HOW
I connected with this project on a deep level as I realized how much plastic and garbage were on the shores of the island brought in from the ocean. Seeing so many empty glass bottles and plastic objects among nature made me reconsider how much garbage I produce in my household and whether it would be better for the environment if I consumed less plastic and more reusable items. Also, walking and exploring the uninhabited island made me feel more connected to nature and to my surroundings. Seeing such a beautiful island untouched by humanity also made me appreciate the work that goes into ecological preservation and protecting wildlife. Since this island was minimally touched by human hands, there was a raw beauty and wilderness all around as we walked along the land and navigated through mangroves. There was no carved-out pathways or railings, but muddy terrain and sprawling mangrove branches across the scenery. The island felt entirely unexplored and hidden, which made me feel connected to the ancient Tequestas that used to navigate this land hundreds of years ago.

Photos by Angelo Gomez (CC by 4.0)

WHERE & WHAT

On April 17th, I arrived at the Deering Estate at around 10 in the morning. As we prepared the canoes to head towards the island, the entire group organized in pairs to coordinate the mile-long trip to the island. There was a learning curve because it my first time ever using a canoe, and the trip was longer than expected. However, the views of the ocean and the island were spectacular as we slowly got closer to our destination. At nearly 11 a.m., we landed on the island and tied our canoes on the shore, finding a small campsite to leave our bags to begin working on the beach cleanup.

Photos by Angelo Gomez (CC by 4.0)

Over the next four hours, we walked around the island picking up garbage from littered across the floor and deep in the mangrove trees. Small items such as bottle caps, plastic utensils, and pens were littered across the uninhabited shore. Broken pieces of Styrofoam were spread out across the floor of the island along the shoreline. Beer bottles and flip flops were dug into the ground and barely noticeable.

Among the tiny pieces of garbage that lined the floor, larger pieces of garbage were scattered across the deeper parts of the lined. With Professor Bailly, we traversed deep into the mangrove trees towards the opposite end of the island as large pieces of trash trapped in there. There were items such as old mattresses, wooden planks, and toilet covers that were difficult to pull out.

After eating lunch and taking a brief swimming break at noon, we returned to continue rummaging for garbage and loading the canoes for the return trip. It was experience spending one last time swimming on the island and together as a class before the end of the semester.

It was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon once began our journey back to the Deering Estate. Each canoe was filled with large garbage bags filled with trash and buckets filled with empty glass bottles that creaked with every turn of the canoe.

Finally, the trip back to the island was much more difficult than the first journey in the morning. The wind picked up and the ocean currents pulled us in the opposite direction, and it took us twice as long to reach the Estate under the afternoon sun. Once we finally returned, we gather the entire collection of garbage together and threw it away at the dumpster, proud of the hard work we accomplished together.

WHEN

SUMMARY
To summarize, this entire service project was a very insightful experience. I saw with my own eyes how garbage from the outside world can still destroy the natural beauty of an uninhabited island. Its important to regulate and enforce proper waste management and trash disposal, to avoid garbage from South Beach, neighboring islands, and form ships to end up on the shores of Chicken Key and other nature preservations, especially when marine life are at risk. Everything in this project worked and I have no complaints about it.

This project was a culmination of the class’s central theme: to learn more about the history of our city and the importance of preserving the land which we live on. Miami is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse habitats such as the Everglades to the west and the mangroves near the shore. With the destruction of so much land since the beginning of the twentieth century, it is crucial to protect and preserve the remainder of our natural environment that made South Florida a wonder. It is crucial to never forget about the past and to honor our history , and to preserve the land that once existed long before us.

Photos by Anette Cruz (CC by 4.0)

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