Sana Arif: Miami Service Project 2021


My name is Sana Arif, and I am currently a sophomore at the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences degree with a minor in International Relations. I have expanded my perspective of Miami by engaging in this course, and am excited to be able to live in South Florida with a refreshed and refined understanding of the area.


I was able to assist in the cleanup by volunteering with the Deering Estate, which is a preservation of Charles Deering’s estate in the 1920s. Charles Deering was a Chicago industrialist, the first chairman of the International Harvester Company, an early preservationist, and was widely known as an art collector and philanthropist. The Deering Estate itself is located along the coast in South Dade, featuring various ecosystems to offer you a unique and extensive glimpse of Florida fauna and flora. In addition to natural experiences, it is also a popular destination for locals to enjoy the scenery, along with various signature events, tours, and classes throughout the year (Deering Estate, 2020). 


It is widely known that humans contribute the most detrimentally out of all species on earth to the environment. Despite this, there are certainly a multitude of ways we can help out earth and work towards reversing the negative impact we have created. I deeply care about working towards a cleaner earth, and have the idea of respecting nature instilled within me. Allowing for trash buildup is inimical to our interests of a safer future. A clean environment is not only beneficial for our own health and admiration, but most importantly, for the species that flourished without negative human impact. In the past, I have attended various beach cleanups where I have collected microplastics and various other trash that plagued the waters. I have been able to learn about the harmful impacts that microplastics cause. Microplastics damage many aquatic creatures, because if swallowed, digestive tracts can be blocked, which directly results in a reduced urge to eat, which reduces growth and reproductive activity. In addition, many chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) tend to adhere to the surfaces of microplastics, along with heavy metals (Royte, 2018). I had heard Professor Bailly mention how much trash polluted Chicken Key far into the waters of the Deering Estate, and was absolutely ecstatic to be able to help clear some of the buildup and experience the scenery. 

As a biology major, I constantly learn about science and my courses have addressed negative environmental effects on our bodies, as well as with animals. In one of my biology labs, I was able to work with the sea anemone Exaiptasia pallida, where we conducted experiments to learn about reasons as to how the aquatic environment is impacted due to climate change. It was addressed how plastics can carry microbes with them, and oftentimes end up settling in various ecosystems such as coral reefs, where they can abrade and create open wounds when entangled in the reefs. This sparked my interest in this volunteering opportunity, and was an experience I had heard plenty about which caused me to decide to enroll in this course. 


This opportunity came to be through my participation in the Honors College at Florida International University (FIU). Here at FIU, I am enrolled in a course with Professor Bailly, where I am able to tour various parts of Miami to learn about the history behind many popular destinations. This service opportunity is done frequently, and is offered only to FIU students and alumni. 


We started out by loading ourselves into our canoes around 10 AM on April 9th, 2021. Although I started off very ecstatic, Professor Bailly pointed out a crocodile in the water where we all stood together to meet up, and I was able to observe a group of manatees nearby. It is safe to say that my morning started off to a wonderful start. 

Photo by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)

We began paddling against a mild tide and minimal currents. The sky was bright and blue above us, with the sun beating down our backs. This was my first time paddling in such waters, so it took a while to find my rhythm of paddling with my partner, but we managed it eventually. The water was surprisingly clear, and we were able to see the turtle and eel grass below us, and occasionally the variety of fish and other invertebrates. After paddling for about an hour, we finally made it to Chicken Key. Here, I noticed small pale fish darting around us, and the intricate roots displayed along the mangrove shoreline. Despite my shoulders aching from the constant paddling motion, it was very silent and comforting to the mind to hear the quiet crashing waves against the canoe. We took a brief swim to feel refreshed once we pulled our canoes up to the island, and a quick lunch break. 

Photo by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)

Once I started collecting trash, I was in shock of the complete build up of trash along the shore. The amount of microplastics were saddening to see, as this was an uninhabited island. It was a representation of how the negative impacts of humanity can reach even the most innocent and untouched areas. It showed me just because we cannot visualize the impacts of our decisions, does not mean it is not happening. Not only does this apply to the environment, but also to various ethical dilemmas. I found a diverse range of items, such as pieces of wood, plastic and glass bottles, shoes and clothing artifacts, and even a knife in perfect condition. I completely filled up a single garbage bag, and was barely able to hoist that up on my shoulder due to the heavy weight of all the trash I collected. We were able to see a variety of hermit crabs, and admired the beautiful glistening waters by swimming once again afterwards. 

Photo by Hebah Bushra (CC by 4.0)

We left the island around 3PM, and headed back to the Deering Estate to throw away our trash. All together, we were proud of the amount of trash we had collected. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to help out the environment, even if it was just for one day. Beyond working towards a cleaner environment, just the opportunity to be able to visualize nature on such a firsthand experience is absolutely unforgettable, and one unique unlike any other. It was completely rewarding and enlightening to the mind. 

Photo by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)


Confirmation of hours submitted to Honors College


Observing the amount of trash buildup at such an isolated island was very impactful in truly understanding how trash travels and does not care about what lies in its path. I hope this experience was able to spread awareness to everybody on how harmful plastic use and improper disposal of trash can be for the environment. I would love to be able to do this again, and would recommend using two trash bags as a single collector to dispose to prevent tearing and spilling out of trash. Not only was this experience rewarding to me personally because of the visual scenery I was able to admire for hours, but also of the satisfaction of seeing the amount of trash bags my group was able to haul back from the island. While more trash will continue to amount up, knowing that cleanups such as this will continue to occur helps me feel more comfortable with the knowledge that I may have the opportunity to help once again. 


“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020,, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?” Magazine, National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2021,,to%20adhere%20to%20their%20surfaces.

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