Thwin Thet Su San: Miami Service Project 2021

Photo taken of Thwin Thet Su San at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens,March 2021. Photo by Annette Cruz / CC By 4.0

Thwin Thet Su San is a Sophomore student studying Finance at Florida International University. She dreams of working as a corporate lawyer after finishing grad school. She came to Miami from Yangon, Myanmar after finishing high school to explore, learn and grow in a new environment.


The Deering Estate is located 24 feet above sea level on the Miami rock ridge which is also known as the Cutler Ridge. This estate was constructed by Charles Deering in 1913 and it has been preserved since then. The ecosystem blends carefully between the Saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean and the freshwater from the Everglades. The Estate spans over 460 acres with a lot of animals and plants cohabitating. It is home to different variety of animals such as crocodiles, manatees, sharks, as well as to plants such as Mangroves and more. These plants protect the Estate and the habitats from natural disasters such as hurricanes, strong winds, shoreline erosion and so much more. To preserve the environment, the Deering Estate has volunteer programs such as Gardening, Weeding, and Adopt-A-Trail Volunteer program, Visitor Guide and Museum Exhibit Volunteer, and Coastal Clean-Up Volunteer. With the help of Professor Bailly, we were able to take part in the Coastal Clean-Up Volunteer where we canoed to an island called Chicken Key where trash such as plastic and glass was picked up.


Ever since high school, I had been the one to volunteer for different charities outside of school. I would usually lead a volunteer group to pick up trash left by tourists and visitors left behind in historical sites. I know the harm that plastic and other non-biodegradable waste can cause to the environment.
Moreover, I have been taking part in reducing waste myself at home and am encouraging my close friends and family to do the same thing as well. When coming to FIU, I have also been a part of FIU’s Model United Nation Team and had directed its UNEP program during FIMUN 33 where I guided kids to find solutions for current and future environmental problems. When I was allowed to take part in the Chicken Key Coastal Clean Up, I could not say no to it. I was able to fix issues not just on paper, but with my actions and hard work in the sun. I was able to take part in forming the results that impact our and our future generation’s futures. The work was tiring but the after results gave me a new perspective on the environment that I was begging to see in the solution papers I have written.


The Chicken Key clean-up service opportunity was provided by Professor John W. Bailly as part of the Miami in Miami Honors class. Professor Bailly organized the clean-up from arranging the time and date to trash bags and canoes to get to Chicken Key island.


I woke up at 7 am on April 17th, 2021 to pack snacks and head to the Deering Estate arriving there at 9:50 am. After arriving, we were assigned to a canoe, provided with life jackets and a canoe partner. We were each assigned with a person who had experience and a person who doesn’t. As it was my first time canoeing or rowing anything, I was paired with my friend Balazs who had a lot of experiences. After settling on a canoe, we were ready to head to the Chicken Key Island. I was quite surprised to find out how clear the water was. From afar, I was quite scared to go into an unknown water body. But what I found in the water was not what I expected. Even before canoeing, I found manatees and tiny sharks which were swimming around in the habitat. When we started rowing, I had no idea the paddle weigh as much as both of my arms. It was a tiring experience but me and my friend were able to communicate to move the canoe in the direction that will lead us to Chicken Key.

Picture of Thwin Thet Su San at Deering Estate on April 2021. Picture taken by Anette Cruz / CC by 4.0

Rowing under a scorching sun for what it felt like an hour when in fact it was less than 30 minutes, accompanied by strong wind tides was worth it as we arrive near the Chicken Key Island where mangroves surround the island with clear water at the roots of it. The air was cool thanks to the shades provided by the plants growing on the island. Arriving on the shore, we tied our ships to a metal rod since mangroves need to be protected and it would be harmful. Exiting the canoe, we set our things down in the campsite provided which was newly built. We rest for around 20 minutes by playing in the sea. Lead by Professor Bailly, we ran into the water as far as we can before falling into the clear cool water. The water provided much relaxation after a sunny and tiring canoeing. After drying ourselves, we started the mission that we came here to do.
I grabbed trash bags and started picking up litter. I had thought that there would not be much trash as a group had come last week but there was still a lot of trash. Fishing nets wrapped trees in a position where it seems like it was strangling and trapping anything that comes into them. The nets were not easy to cut as it was sharp, strong and hard to cut. With much difficulty, I managed to get a large net out. There was also a big piece of plastic shaped like a rectangle with holes in-between. The piece has been there so long, it became a part of the plant. The roots were growing out of those tiny holes in the plastic, making it impossible to remove them. Another hazardous material that I found was foam used in cushions and pillows. Just like the plastic before, it integrated with the roots, making it a part of the ecosystem. The whole island was littered with sharp glass bottles and gasoline containers as well. I picked them up but it was hard to do since they were all deposited along the edge of the island. After finishing around on the island, I decided to collect more trash in the water as there was still trash trapped among the mangroves. The biggest one was a big wooden plank and a big wooden ladder that was found on the way. The plank was easy to remove as it was floating but the ladder was trapped under the sand making it difficult to remove. After a quick lunch, resting, and playing in the water, we headed back on the canoe with huge trash bags and back to the Deering Estate where I row until my arms fell off.

Picture of Miami in Miami Honors class at Deering Estate. Picture taken by a Deering Estate Employee / CC by 4.0


Screenshot taken by Thwin Thet Su San of Honors Service Hours / CC by 4.0


The Clean up was one of the most rewarding experiences that I had done. To provide back to nature by taking part in cleaning was amazing. It is due to these types of environmental programs that we can see plants regrow and thrive in a healthy environment. The tiredness was rewarded by seeing young buds growing in person. Even under the scorching sun and tiring row, I would gladly do it again to ensure a better future for the earth and all the organis

Picture by Thwin Thet Su San at Chicken Key, 2021 / CC by 4.0


“Volunteering Opportunities.” Deering Estate, 28 Jan. 2021,

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