Sofia De La Torre: Miami Service Project 2021

STUDENT BIO

My name is Sofia De La Torre. I am a junior in the Honors College studying Biological Sciences on a pre-med track hoping to one day achieve my goal of being a surgeon.

Photo edit from Chicken Key by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0

WHO

Deering Estate is the former residence of Charles Deering who lived on the 444-acre property. The Deering Estate, once owned by Charles Deering, is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. There are 8 different ecosystems amongst the Deering Estate property. However, our focus is on Chicken Key. Chicken Key is a small, uninhabited island right off the coast of Deering located in the Biscayne Bay. This island is where our beach cleanup took place.

Photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0

WHY

I am currently taking the Discover Miami class in the Spring 2021 semester, almost exactly one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Due to the shutdown of almost every store, restaurant, park, etc. in Miami, the options for a service project were very limited. Through the Discover Miami course, I got the opportunity to kayak to Chicken Key and take place in a beach cleanup. I am a biology major, so I wouldn’t exactly say environmental conservation is related to my major. However, it is something that I am very passionate about. When I was in high school, my friends and I would go to the beach or kayak out from the People’s Dock at Deering Estate or from a little park next to the Snowden’s Dam and conduct mini cleanups. I feel that trying your hardest to make a small impact, can make a big difference in the long run.

HOW

Preserving the environment is something I feel a very close connection to, especially living in Miami. I have seen firsthand some of the deterioration our oceans and mangroves have been through in the 20 years I have been alive. Growing up so close to the water, it becomes a big part of your life. When I was younger, I would go to the beach with my parents or out on the boat as a pastime. However, as I got older, I realized the impact that human interference was having on our planet. It is so sad to see animals, plants, and even entire ecosystems dying due to a problem caused by humans, caused by us. What makes the problem even worse? People who are aware of this problem do not even care.

An estimated 8 billion pounds of trash, mostly plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

(Baechler, 2021)

Miami residents live less than 45 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and are contributing to littering trash, which eventually makes its way into the ocean. “Over 1 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean (Sea Turtle Conservancy).” This not only affects the millions of animals who call the ocean their home, but also the ecosystems in which they are living. Our own Biscayne Bay is under attack. The Biscayne Bay has had a slow death, and little is being done to remedy the situation. It is hard to reverse your mistakes after they have been made though. From climate change to rising sea levels, our environment just can’t keep up with the speed that change is occurring. 

First photo by John Bailly / CC by 4.0 (2017)
Second photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0 (2021)

WHERE & WHAT

On April 9th, our class met at the Deering Estate in the morning for our kayaking adventure. I have only kayaked twice before and definitely would not consider myself an expert in any way, shape, or form. Professor Bailly led our class out to the “docking station” where we would exit Deering Estate from. Although we were told to choose experienced rowing partners, I decided to partner up with my friend, Sana Arif, which I would later learn was not the most responsible choice. To give you a sight into the future, we arrived at the island at least 10 minutes after our other classmates, but lucky for us we weren’t the last to arrive. We then spent the day cleaning up trash around Chicken Key. We learned that Professor Bailly has been leading the Honors College on this excursion since 2017. Chicken Key is not inhabited by anybody; therefore, the island was buried in plastic trash and whatever else you can imagine. It is extremely hard not to obsess over every piece of microplastic or trash that is just out of reach. For me, it was an emotional experience because you always hear about how much trash there is in the ocean and on our beaches and it is so easy to ignore that until you see it for your own eyes. After spending the day cleaning up, we swam and snorkeled in the Biscayne Bay. Man made canals were dredged for boats next to Chicken Key, so all the movement of water in that area makes the water a little murky. Our kayak trip back to Deering Estate was much easier than the trek to get there because we had the current on our side. We enjoyed napping and other shenanigans when out on the water. Lastly, our day ended by placing all the trash we had collected in the proper dumpsters. This experience was unlike one I’ve ever had before and will continue to help preserve our oceans, even if the difference I alone can make is miniscule. 

Photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0

WHEN

SUMMARY

As I mentioned before, it was very hard not to obsess over picking up every piece of trash because there is just too much. I won’t sugarcoat it, but April in Miami isn’t the warmest of months. At first it was hard to find motivation to walk around and cleanup after having rowed to the island. Once on the island though, the realization hits of how much pollution is around you. I put some music on and didn’t stop picking up trash for hours. It is satisfying to know that when you are done, you’ve made a difference in your own community. Chicken Key has had a “glow up” in the last five years and we can credit Professor Bailly for helping achieve this.

Word Count: 1049

Works Cited

Baechler, Britta, et al. “Plastics in the Ocean.” Ocean Conservancy, 13 Apr. 2021, oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/plastics-in-the-ocean/. 

“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Marine Debris.” Sea Turtle Conservancy, http://www.conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-threats-marine-debris/. 

“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, deeringestate.org/history/. 

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