On November 10, 2019, Nicole Patrick, an Honors College student from my MIM course, had the brilliant idea of organizing a cleanup at Chicken Key with the help of Professor John Bailly and the Deering Estate. Without hesitation, I joined the team of volunteers.
At 10 am, we embarked on our journey from Deering Estate to Chicken Key, a small island located approximately one mile offshore. The Deering Estate is an environmental, archeological, historical, and architectural preserve owned by the state of Florida and managed by the Miami Dade County Park and Recreation department (“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens” 2019). They facilitated the execution of our cleanup by providing us with kayaks, canoes, paddles, life vests, gloves, and paper bags.
On that morning, the tide was high, and the wind was blowing furiously, but the view was breathtaking. Even though I’m not a good canoer, the thought of giving up never crossed my mind. I was never discouraged by any of the obstacles. It took us about 50 minutes of kayaking to get to the island. Even though it was a wild ride, I enjoyed it. I will never get over how beautiful the water, the sky, and the sun looked all together. At times, the view is so breathtaking that it seems unreal! As I admired the unbelievable scene, I realized how taken for granted nature is. It is stunning, and somehow we have become desensitized to it. Perhaps that is the reason why we damage our planet recklessly: if everyone appreciated nature’s beauty, then they would probably be more concerned about its destruction.
We are so disconnected from our surroundings that we don’t see what we’re missing out on and what we are killing. Activities such as cleanups, like the one I was part of on November 10th, help people expand their perception of concerning issues.
We arrived at Chicken Key at approximately 11 am. Then, we were divided into four groups: each group was assigned an area on the island to clean. I immediately started looking for debris, but I didn’t notice any on the surface. I decided to look deeper and began to explore. I’ve always feared the unknown, so exploring is kind of looking for the unknown; however, I went for it. After all, no treasure is found without searching! I began to go inside bushes, in between the tangled roots of the mangroves, and under low tree branches. I eventually found many things! One of the biggest items I found was a big orange bucket. I didn’t understand how nobody, including myself, had noticed it before– a big orange bucket sitting among trees. I realized that the lack of mindfulness while performing a task could sabotage the achievement of our goals.
I also found two medicine glass bottles. A pair of sunglasses sandwiched between the ground and the mangrove roots, a pair of scissors, and lots and lots of plastic and glass bottles. It takes up to 1,000 years for plastic bottles to decompose (LeBlanc 2019). Can you imagine what beaches would look like without cleanups? It would be difficult to enjoy such beauty with so much garbage.
We think that by using paper straws and paper bags will solve the damage we have caused to our home; however, paper takes about one month and a half to decompose (LeBlanc 2019). Decreasing the use of plastic and other eco-unfriendly material is definitely a great way of reducing the damage; however, to save the world, what must change is our mindset: that is the solution. We have to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Hermit crabs mistake bottles for seashells, turtles get trapped in plastic and ropes, seals mistaken plastic bags for jellyfish, birds mistake plastic for food, etc.
We finished picking up debris at approximately 1:30 pm. Then, we had a picnic and had some time to swim. It was refreshing to relax in such a calm and beautiful environment–very different from what one is used to. Then, by 2:30 pm, we began to head back to Deering Estate. On our way back, the tide wasn’t as bad, and the wind was helping us instead of sabotaging us. As we canoed, pelicans guided our paths.
When we arrived at The Deering Estate, we proceeded to put the canoes and equipment back, and we got rid of the garbage.
The things we can achieve by working together are impressing. We ended up with approximately twenty garbage bags filled with trash! Think about the positive impact we have the potential to make if small groups around the world get together regularly and do cleanups like the one we did. Together we could truly make a difference. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, we’ve been using this power for the worse.
Overall, I found this activity extremely rewarding and enjoyable for many reasons. I got to relax, reflect, realize, and had fun! This is a fantastic way of serving the community and expanding one’s perceptions in order to grow as a person.
A special thanks to Nicole Patrick for organizing this clean up in such a thorough way, to Professor Bailly for encouraging his students to be leaders and serve our community, and to The Deering Estate for making it possible.
“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 5 Nov. 2019, https://deeringestate.org/history/.
LeBlanc, Rick. “How Long Will It Take That Bag of Trash to Decompose in a Landfill?” The Balance Small Business, The Balance Small Business, 22 Oct. 2019, https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033.