My name is Jared Johnson and I am a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. I grew up and spent most of my life in Georgia but moved to South Florida in 2019. I am majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, I want to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand my online businesses.
I volunteered at the Deering Estate to perform a Chicken Key cleanup. Deering Estate is a nature preserve located in southeast Miami-Dade county. It was originally built by Charles Deering in the 1920s, and was bought by the state of Florida in 1986. It is now a historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the house still contains some of the artifacts that Deering placed inside, a large amount was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Deering Estate now offers tours of the house and property as well as hosting different events throughout the year.
Chicken Key is owned by the Deering Estate and is one of the many nature preserves located on the property. This is an uninhabited island located about 1 mile off of the shore in Biscayne Bay. It is home to plenty of wildlife and is untouched by development.
This volunteering opportunity was part of the Miami in Miami course at FIU. This cleanup excursion was organized and set up by the professor of Miami in Miami, John Bailly. Even though Chicken Key is an uninhabited island, it is still prone to a buildup of trash. In order to preserve the island and the wildlife that is there, the Miami in Miami students spent a day collecting as much trash as possible. Being a computer science major, this does not in any way relate to it. However, that does not mean that opportunities like this are not beneficial. After spending so much time in front of a computer, it is very refreshing to connect with nature and gain a different perspective. While picking up trash is not necessarily a specific interest of mine, I do enjoy doing whatever I can in my power to take care of the environment.
This was a very unique opportunity and one that was very fulfilling. I had never been on an uninhabited island before, much less helped to restore the natural ecosystem. From the moment I stepped into the canoe, I was in awe of nature and how peaceful it felt. From the sound of the wind in my ear and the paddles hitting the water, to the mangrove forest we canoed through. Then I got to Chicken Key and saw an island untouched and undeveloped by humans. Well, that is what it was supposed to be had it not been for the endless trash littering wherever I looked. It was very disturbing to see that even places that are supposed to be remote and desolate have not escaped the disaster caused by humans.
Where & What
On October 6, 2021 both sections of the Miami in Miami class canoed out to Chicken Key to pick up trash that had been building up on the island. Professor Bailly organized this through Deering Estate, which owns the island. We all met at the dock at 10am to gather our equipment and get in our canoes. After all our canoes were in the water and we started heading to the island, Professor Bailly had us take a detour through part of the mangrove forest. After an hour of canoeing, we all made it to Chicken Key and tied our canoes to the island. From the moment I stepped foot off the canoe, the amount of trash that had built up was astonishing. For the next 2 hours, the entire class picked up as much trash as possible and filled up multiple black trash bags. Most of the trash I collected consisted of bottle caps and plastic bottles; however, there were some obscure items found. We found what seemed to be a relatively new ramp to a dock that was floating while stuck on some roots. After we cleared out the roots we attempted to pick it up and take it back to the trash pile but it was too bulky. Someone had also found a random, green flag abandoned on the island that seemed to be hand-made. After we were done picking up trash, we loaded the trash bags onto our canoes and made our way back to the Deering Estate.
Overall, the volunteering opportunity was very successful. However, some things did not go as smoothly as planned. Before we even started canoeing to Chicken Key, there were not enough canoes for everyone to go in pairs of two. Since a handful of canoes had to have three people inside, not only was there less room for the trash bags, but it also required more coordination for paddling. I was in a three person canoe and there were times when we would end up turning 180 degrees unintentionally. Canoeing back to the Deering Estate was even more of a challenge. Everyone was tired from a long day and, in addition to that, the wind seemed to be working against us.
While it was enjoyable to be outside and immersed in nature, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen. With the wind blowing while we were canoeing to Chicken Key, I did not realize until it was too late and ended up getting the worst sunburn that I can remember. This is a mistake that I plan to never make again.
While picking up trash, I focused more on searching for and picking up small items rather than larger ones since they are easier to miss. At the end of the day, I only had filled a single bag. But, since smaller items are more damaging to the environment, I was satisfied with the result. I feel that this cleanup excursion went very well and it was rewarding to be able to do my part in restoring nature, even if only temporary. I absolutely would do this again and look forward to my next opportunity.