Derick Plazaola: Miami Service Project 2021

Hello everyone! My name is Derick Plazaola and I am currently in the Honors College at Florida International University, double majoring in Anthropology and Geography while also pursuing a minor in History. At the time of this page being published, I am currently 20 years old and a junior-level student at the university. Among my primary passions in life are traveling, photography, and spending time with my friends and family. With that being said, I wish to go into graduate school in order to obtain a master’s in Archaeology after I am done with my undergraduate studies.


For my Miami Service Project this year, I chose to volunteer alongside Professor John Bailly alongside students from my honors class at the Deering Estate – located in Palmetto Bay – for the cleanup service of Chicken Key. This cleanup service was performed on the date of April 9th, 2021.

Photo by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

I personally decide to become apart of this cleanup service activity here at the Deering Estate because of the fact that this activity was one that would prove to be both fun and impactful towards the environment and preservation of the environment. Although this activity did not relate to my major in any aspect, my participation within John Bailly’s ‘Discovering Miami’ Spring 2021 course allowed me to see that the authentic history of Miami is one that can only be preserved through the continuation of human efforts of active preservation and protection of the surrounding environment. Thus, the cleanup service of Chicken Key was one effort that contributed toward this overall effort of environmentalism within Miami. Additionally, I also saw how exhilarating the experience would be as it would turn out to be my first time in which I could go canoeing.

Photo by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

I was personally able to connect with this opportunity by actually being able to physically see the aftereffects of our efforts on Chicken Key once we were done cleaning by the end of the service. Upon arrival, I was first able to see just how much trash and waste was on Chicken Key and around the shores of the island. This was only made even more apparent as I continued walking around and saw just how far some of this waste – notably in the form of plastics – was able to reach inland. By working together with the rest of the people in my class to fill up as many trash bags as we could in order to lessen the amount of waste on the island, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and selflessness in being able to be apart of this overall effort for environmentalism. This was something that was really exemplified at the end of the day as we were able to see just how much trash we were able to collect in total, amounting to the collection of our combined efforts on Chicken Key. Thus, having the opportunity to clean up this uninhabited island that was filled to the brim with trash was something that allowed me to connect with this service activity. However, in addition to the cleanup, I also connected further with the service activity by actually being able to canoe towards the island. I was able to not only learn how to perform the activity, but at the same time I also was able to enjoy moments of serenity by having the chance to relax in the waters of Biscayne Bay. It was a moment where I could feel at one with the sea by having the opportunity to canoe so far away from the Deering Estate.

Photo by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)
Where & What?

On April 9th I arrived at the Deering Estate around 9:30 in the morning, somewhat nervous and concerned for my wellbeing considering that this would prove to be the first time in my life that I would canoe. After having the opportunity to pair up with a fellow classmate and friend of mine, Johnny, the class departed for Chicken Key from the estate. Before we actually started heading towards the island, we decided to explore a tunnel of mangroves that was connected to Deering Estate and it was quite a great introduction to the overall canoeing experience. After roughly 40 minutes of canoeing, our class arrived at Chicken Key. Upon this said arrival, we tied the canoes and kayaks to the island and began working on collecting trash while also simultaneously exploring at the same time.

Photo by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

As I began walking around the island and collecting trash, I gained more of an idea regarding just the kinds of trash present on Chicken Key and was only more and more astounded as to the different forms of trash that were just endlessly lying around. Bottles, sandals, pieces of plastic, pieces of wood, and more. Professor Bailly noted to us just how ridiculous some objects of trash had diverted from areas of Miami – such as a sign that indicated that it had come from Miami Beach. Furthermore, we could see how pieces of garbage had become stuck within the mangrove trees, further ruining the authenticity which the island previously retained before all this trash had arrived and ruined its previous image.

One trash bag done already about an hour into arriving at Chicken key. This only showcased to me further the amount of trash that was present there, to the point that my first trash bag was already filled to the brim within that amount of time. After a lunch break and a break in the shallow waters surrounding Chicken key, it was back to collecting more trash for the service. Within a quick matter of time, my second bag had become filled with another abundant amount of trash that was still ever-so present on the island.

After finishing up this second bag, I proceeded to have a final lunch break and had some fun in the water with some of my fellow classmates. Then we proceeded to round up and collect all of our trash bags and tied them onto our boats so we could take them back to Deering Estate. Once we did this, we canoed back as a group once more. However, before this, we canoed out to the edge of Biscayne Bay and spent some relaxation time in the waters, truly appreciating the beauty of the bayside. Once we arrived back, we unloaded all of our trash and were able to successfully dispose of everything. In the end, we were proud of the efforts which we all put in when it came to preserving the mangrove trees of Chicken Key.


Overall, the Chicken Key cleanup was a service project which yielded highly important results in the form of environmental protection and an exhilarating life experience. From start to finish, the opportunity to be able to work directly with Professor John Bailly in order to amount to this effort. Environmental protection is an issue that is commonly overlooked by a lot of people, or is rather is one that a lot of people do not place effort into aiding towards. Therefore, the opportunity to clean up Chicken Key was one that allowed me to immerse myself towards this noble cause. In addition to just the effort of cleaning up the island, this opportunity allowed me to experience an activity that will always be memorable when it comes to thinking about my best moments in college. Having the chance to canoe on the waters of Biscayne Bay will, without a doubt, be the first to pop up in my head as I reminisce and reflect on my years in college and the most notable experiences of them.

In terms of what worked, I definitely do believe that our efforts to cleaning up Chicken Key were an undoubtable success. We were able, as a group, to come together and restore the preservation efforts of this important, uninhabited island. After being shown images of what Chicken Key looked like in comparison to today, we could see that our efforts were part of a long-term conservation effort that has been maintained for years on end. Starting with an island that was filled to the brim with trash to an island that now had a significantly lesser amount of waste showed that long-term efforts do indeed yield impactful results.

Photo by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: