Adrian Mills: Miami Service Project 2021

Miami Service Project: Chicken Key

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Student Bio

Hello! I am Adrian Mills and I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however, I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU, and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it.  I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however, I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer.  My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for exploring new experiences.


The main institution that this clean-up was a part of is the FIU Honors College, more specifically the Miami in Miami/Discover Miami Honors Course and the Deering Estate. I volunteered alongside the rest of my classmates and our professor, John Bailly at Chicken Key, a mangrove island offshore of the Deering Estate in Miami, Florida. 

Why  and  How

There are many reasons why I selected this volunteering opportunity, relating both to my interests, community service, its importance, and even family tradition. 

Personally, although being secondary, I have done many similar volunteer clean-ups throughout my life. It is something that I used to do as a family, as my dad, being an Environmental Engineer for the EPA, often took my whole family on these clean-ups making them a family event. Most of this Cleanup was classified as River Sweeps and focused primarily on cleaning up sections of the Ohio River, back near Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio where I grew up. I still have many of the shirts they would give out at some of these events. I even had last year signed up to do the Biscayne Bay cleanup with my dad as he was going to be in Miami at that time, but it, unfortunately, canceled because it was scheduled for a couple of days after everything shut down because of COVID 19. 

Secondly but more importantly, the overall concepts, importance, and impact that doing community cleanups, especially in bodies of water, being rivers, the ocean, etc,  have is the obvious primary reason, I try to do activities such as these as much as  I can. 

Pollution is such a large issue and it is an especially large issue in the oceans. Not even discussing the carbon sequestration process, or oil spills, or any other types of pollution, just regarding physical debris and waste is estimated to reach 600 million metric tons, by 2040, with the best current estimates made in 2015 being 150 million metric tones (2).  The primary debris and waste is plastic, which doesn’t really ever go away, only becoming smaller pieces, which arguably do even more damage to marine life and ecosystems. It is estimated that over 1 million marine animals die every year directly due to plastic waste and debris (2). Not only is this a massive issue but there are countless other effects on the precious marine ecosystems that are already dying from climate change, and carbon sequestration. These issues are some of the many environmental and sustainability crises that humans have caused in the past century, and they are only going to continue to get worst unless they are truly addressed. 

Despite the large scale of the issue, and what may seem like a never-ending task, cleanups do help the local ecosystems, and it’s imperative that we all play a small role in trying to address these issues and make the world a better place. It is with this idea in mind that cleanups such as the ones conducted on the Chicken Key are so important for the conservation and marine life and animal species. 

The overwhelming climate crisis and all the other environmental issues, and overall sustainability, are some of the main interests of mine that I hope to be able to continue to address and help to move into the future. I hope to use my education and time at FIU and other universities, as I aim to put my extensive knowledge and experience I have worked hard to obtain, to work, and use what I know to help make the world a better, more sustainable place.

I connected with this opportunity in many ways, as aforementioned, volunteering and cleanups such as the one I and the rest of my class were able to participate in, are always something I strive to be a part of as it is an enjoyable fun experience that allows us to make a little bit of a difference in some particular ecosystem and contribute to addressing the large issue at hand. 

Where and What

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in this volunteering experience 2 times within this semester, as I did once for my initial honors class, with John Bailly as the professor, and another time as there was an opening for a second date. 

The first day was on Friday, April 9th, 2021 and the second day was on April 17th, 2021. 

Both days followed similar layouts and involved canoeing from the Deering Estate to Chicken Key, and then cleaning up trash for several hours, before loading everything up into the canoes and returning to the Deering Estate.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Starting out in the morning all the volunteers met at the Deering Estate, with Canoes, paddles, lifejackets, and backpacks in hand. Everyone partnered up and choose a canoe, and eventually one by one, we all pushed our canoes into the water and got in. The next 30-45 minutes or so, the groups of 6-7 canoes, all paddled out of the initial inlet area near the Deering Estate and paddled initially exploring a mangrove tunnel, before venturing back out to the open water and toward chicken key an around 1.25 miles before following the shoreline and meeting at the Northern part of the island. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

After tying the canoes and unloading our stuff, we enjoyed a quick swim and lunch, before heading out all around the island and picking up as much garbage as we could. I initially followed the shoreline, picking up garbage working my way to the south side of the island. I quickly filled up two bags, and then was able to fill up 2 more that I had found while picking up garbage. Eventually, towards the southern side of the island, Bailly brought some canoes, and we loaded up the full garbage bag at this meeting point. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

We all continue picking up garbage, finding items from shoes, to chairs, to mattresses, to hundred and hundred of bottles, and other small plastic debris. On the second day, I was there, myself and 3 other venture to the very southern point of the island, where there was so much trash, that we were able to fill up 8 bags within 30 minutes or so. Eventually, everyone made their way back to canoes with all the garbage bags now full. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Once the canoes were full, we walked them back to the initial meeting spot, for a quick last swim, before distributing all the garbage between the canoes and setting off back to the Deering Estate. 

The venture back was a little different and more difficult on both days, I was there. Everyone with their full canoes heading into the wind sometimes struggled to start on course. On the first day, I recall around halfway back 5 canoes came together and formed a large canoe with all of us as a team working together to make our way back, eventually, this did break, up but it was a fun idea. The second day the wind was definitely worse and it made the trip back difficult for many of the canoes. Being somewhat experienced with canoeing and my partner being experienced as well, we were able to quickly make our way back to the estate, unload, and then paddle back to help with some of the other groups,. I switched with another person, and we were able to all make our way back safely. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

We then helped unload all the canoes, and load all the garbage onto a truck, then helped unload the truck into some dumpsters nearby. Overall this was an amazing experience, especially being able to be out in the world doing fun things with others as the last year has been so limited. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)



Overall the Chicken Key Service project was an amazing experience because I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with another student in my class, and more importantly the local environment around us while being able to work on restoring the natural ecosystem of the mangrove island and clean up an impressive amount of garbage. I hope to continue to participate in similar projects, as it has been something that I have truly enjoyed for a very long time.  Being able to be a part of a project like this and the fun, experience of canoeing, swimming, while also playing a small role in making the world a better place, was an experience that I will never forget, and look forward to doing other similar activities in the future.

Word Count

Total Word Count: 1545 (excluding section names and instructional sentences)


  1. “Deering Estate Chicken Key.” John William Bailly, 22 Mar. 2020, 
  2. Parker, Laura. “Plastic Trash Flowing into the Seas Will Nearly Triple by 2040 without Drastic Action.” Science, National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2021, -done. 

All photos were taken by myself or one of the other volunteers participating in the cleanup. 

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