Monica Barletta is a sophomore in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is currently a Biology major on the Pre-med track and hopes to attend the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Outside of school, she enjoys creating art and spending time with her friends and family.
This volunteer opportunity was organized by John Bailly on behalf of the Deering Estate. The Deering Estate is a 444-acre plot of land that has a very rich history behind it. On the property, there are multiple hiking trails each containing beautiful unique sights, as well as two houses that contain some of Miami’s oldest pieces of history that are still on display today. This estate’s background dates back to the late 19th century when the first house on the property was built by the Richmond family and later turned into an inn for travelers until 1915 when it was purchased by Charles Deering of the International Harvester Company. The Deering family has had such a huge impact on the development of Miami and being able to see the home of such an influential man is a unique opportunity that South Florida residents get to enjoy. Not only does the Deering Estate serve as a museum, but it supports local artists by employing many of them as residents, including the lead organizer of the cleanup: John Bailly. This museum also hosts so many events for the people of Miami; The Deering Estate gives back so much to the community that it is only right that we as a community give back to this place as well, volunteering to clean up one of its islands is just one of many ways to help support this place.
I chose to participate in this specific volunteer opportunity because I feel it is our responsibility to clean up after ourselves and leave the world a better place than we found it. Mangrove forests are gorgeous ecosystems that provide habitats to many different organisms and are of great importance to communities along the coastline. Trash washes up on these mangrove islands and can disrupt marine life cycles or even kill many of these animals. Although this is an issue everyone should care about, I feel as if it does connect with me specifically because I am a biology major, so I have taken many classes that made me realize how detrimental plastic pollution is to many ecosystems.
I found out about this trip through my Art Society Conflict professor, John Bailly. This cleanup is a popular volunteer opportunity among the Honors College at FIU and something I have wanted to do since my freshman year. A message was sent out in the class group chat that there were a few spots open for the cleanup and, as this is a trip I have been wanting to do for a while, I immediately responded. Due to COVID restrictions, the excursion was limited to 18 people and people were accepted on a first come-first serve basis.
Where and What
This cleanup took place the Saturday morning of April 17. We all met up at the back of the Deering Estate by its boat basin at 9:30 AM, where we would depart on the two-person canoes after pairing up. The Chicken Key is a seven-acre mangrove island about one mile away from our departure point. We spent about 30 minutes paddling our way to the island, stopping once to take pictures and admire a path that went through the mangroves.
Once we made it to the island, we tied up our canoes and took a quick dip in the water to cool off before we got to work. We spent the next few hours walking around the island picking up whatever garbage we could find and putting them in trash bags we would later haul back to the estate to throw away. We found a surprising amount of trash and even things like a mattress that I am still wondering how they washed up onto the island. After collecting trash for a few hours, we all bonded by sitting around the campfire grounds together and eating lunch. While the trash was being loaded onto the canoes, we jumped back into the water to enjoy the water at high tide.
The canoe ride back was so much harder because of how much trash was collected. Despite the wind blowing against us and having to haul the extremely heavy trash, I still had so much fun paddling back with everyone. Once we got back to the estate, we unloaded the trash from the canoes and brought it to the dumpster in the back.
All in all, I had an amazing time volunteering; this was an amazing experience that I would love to have again. Just because we had to work doesn’t mean we didn’t find ways to have a great time with it.
The Deering Estate is a historic landmark that has so much significance not only in supporting our present-day community, but also by containing so much of South Florida’s history within its walls. It is critical for us to work to protect this site because of how important it is to the local community. I chose to volunteer at the estate to help preserve the history and to protect the ecosystems that are so important to my home. Everyone should do their part to help clean up after themselves and keep our waters clean, but sadly many people do not which leads to trash piling onto the island.
This has been an activity that I have been wanting to participate in for a while but COVID made it very difficult, we got around this by making sure to wear our masks and social distance so everything could run smoothly. This trip was very eye-opening as it made me realized just how much trash washes up onto the island. I was able to see old pictures of the island from before the cleanups started and there was so much garbage that it was almost unrecognizable. It is clear the cleanups have made a tremendous difference in the few short years since they began by bringing back so much life and beauty to the island. Although there has been a huge amount of progress, there is still work to be done with trash washing up on shore every day.
Biscayne Bay – Chicken key in Florida. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://paddling.com/paddle/trips/biscayne-bay—chicken-key-florida
Charles Deering. (2021, April 10). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Deering
Endangered species International. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/mangrove.html#:~:text=Despite%20their%20ecological%20and%20economic,of%20the%20world’s%20mangrove%20forests.&text=Endangered%20Species%20International%20focuses%20its,restoring%20mangroves%20in%20critical%20areas.
Services, M. (n.d.). Tips to keep Biscayne BAY clean – Miami-Dade County. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.miamidade.gov/environment/biscayne-bay-clean.asp#:~:text=Garbage%20and%20impaired%20water%20quality,the%20environment%2C%20especially%20marine%20ecosystems.&text=Impaired%20water%20quality%20can%20trigger,fish%20kills%20in%20Biscayne%20Bay.