My name is Hebah Bushra and I am an undergraduate student at the Honors College at Florida International University aiming to pursue a career in the medical field. I am majoring in Biological Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences as well minoring in Chemistry. My hobbies include photography, painting, and traveling and I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone with new and different experiences.
I was provided the opportunity to volunteer for a clean up project at Chicken Key through the Deering Estate and Professor Bailly from FIU Honors College. The Deering Estate, land originally inhabited by Tequesta, was owned by industrialist Charles Deering and consists of two houses, a basin surrounded by several islands including Chicken Key, and protected natural areas with distinct ecosystems. This Miami Museum embraces different activities such as conservation, hiking, learning with camps and programs, and arts exhibits.
I chose this volunteering opportunity because it is a different outlet for me to positively impact our community. I have always been passionate about giving back and helping those in need and have volunteered at the Cleveland Clinic Florida for 2 years, food pantries, Southwest Regional Library, and a Sunday School. From these opportunities, I was able to help people of all ages in a direct and immediate way. With the cleanup on Chicken Key, I was able to impact not only people indirectly but also the several flora and fauna living in Biscayne Bay through environmental efforts against harmful human activity. This slightly relates to my major of Biological Sciences through the ecological aspect however, it heavily relates to my interests and passions as I am an intern for the FIU Office of University Sustainability and helped create the environmental club at my high school. This opportunity enabled me to protect environments which humans take for granted, allowed for self awareness and reflection, and provided impactful memories.
I connected with this volunteering opportunity through my Discover Miami Honors College course from FIU. This class encompasses memorable experiences from walking in the Everglades to canoeing to an uninhabited island and enriching knowledge of Miami’s History.
WHERE & WHAT
On April 9th 2021, my classmates and I arrived at the Deering Estate around 10 am. With perfect weather and seeing the canoes lined up with life jackets, I was truly excited for this unique volunteer opportunity. After listening to Professor Bailly explaining what our day holds and choosing our canoeing partners, we started to canoe towards our destination of an uninhabited island off of the Deering Estate called Chicken Key. My canoeing partner, Jena Nassar, and I were cruising through the waters at first. Professor Bailly led us to a magnificent clear path surrounded by mangroves on either side which was just the start to this memorable journey. After exiting the mangrove path, the canoeing process became a bit tiresome and hard. It became difficult to control the direction our canoe went as we kept turning towards the opposite direction intended, leaving us a little behind. Once we figured out a paddling method with counting and switching paddles from side to side, we started to enjoy this peaceful experience.
After about 4o minutes of canoeing, we arrived at Chicken Key and as we paddled alongside the island I could already see waste and plastic objects tangled in the mangrove roots. We pushed and secured our canoes onto the shore of the island and with our personal items and gloves/trash bags in hand, we headed inward. We relaxed on a small bench for a couple of minutes and some students ate lunch to become energized however, from the minute I stepped foot on the island, I was eager to get started on the clean up. But first to cool down, we all ran into the shallow blue water and enjoyed yourself with some splashing. After gaining energy, we each took trash bags and started to explore the island while simultaneously picking up as much waste we encountered. I was genuinely surprised to see some of the items that washed up onto the island. I found several sandals and boots, an ice cube tray, unused contact lens, glass bottles sadly with no notes, at least 100 bottle caps, and much more! It was very important to pick the small pieces of plastic as those are the most dangerous for animals since they are accidentally consumed. At one point, I just sat on the ground for a couple of minutes picking up tiny colorful bits of plastic. It was really sad and frustrating to see that some animals lived in the bottles like crabs and plants were growing surrounded by or wrapped in plastic. After hours of filling up multiple trash bags, we all placed the heavy bags into the canoes as well as a plastic chair, tubes, and a tire. We ended our day on the island with lunch and some took naps while others headed to the water to relax and swim. We soon packed up our canoes by distributing the trash bags appropriately and headed back to the Deering Estate.
The journey back was much easier with the current and wind working in our favor. We even paddled to the edge of Biscayne Bay and laid back in the gently rocking canoes listening to the water which made me feel so relaxed and even a bit sleepy. Once we reached the estate, we made a pile of the trash and properly disposed of everything. It was very satisfying to see our efforts to help the environment in front of us and away from the innocent flora and fauna.
The cleanup occurred on Friday, April 9th, 2021 from 10 am to 4 pm.
All things considered, the service project Chicken Key Cleanup provided breathtaking and exhilarating memories and awareness of the immense need for environmental protection. This is a problem that is highly overlooked and seen as not a current issue as it is not witnessed first hand by many. After seeing a picture of the waste on Chicken Key in 2017 to how the island is currently, I am relieved that people are putting in time and effort to conserve the land. But, in 2021, we are still bringing back heavy bags of trash and this is all due to continuation of harmful human activities and this is only one small island out of many. I believe that our efforts to clean up Chicken Key was very successful and will definitely help in the long term conservation efforts. This being said, I aim to continue raising awareness on environmental issues and help through actions. This opportunity will be one of my most notable and rewarding college experiences.
“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, deeringestate.org/history/.