Liza Guanch is majoring in Psychology and working towards her bachelor’s degree at Florida International University in the Honors College. Her career goal is to study forensic psychology and hopefully, turn that into a career with the FBI. In her free time, Liza enjoys spending time in nature and experiencing the world around her.
I volunteered at the Deering Estate in Miami, FL with Professor John William Bailly and the Miami in Miami class. This Estate is protected land and preserves the natural landscape of Florida from the Pine Rockland to the Mangrove Habitat. There are many volunteer opportunities at this Estate, but our group was able to do the most rewarding experience of cleaning up Chicken Key. Chicken Key is an uninhabited island that collects the debris of the neighboring beaches and local fishing spots, so the wildlife that does live there suffers.
Cleaning up Chicken Key was part of the syllabus in the Miami in Miami class, so that is one of the main reasons we took part in this opportunity, but it was not the only one. In school, we are taught of the environmental issues the world is facing, but we never get the chance to make a change, so this was our chance to make a difference.
I am a Psychology major, so taking part in this cleanup was not for the benefits of having it relate to my career, but it did take me back to my younger years of being a Girl Scout. I was a Girl Scout for 7 years and we did many beach clean-ups, hiking trips, and other outdoor excursions, so this Chicken Key Cleanup reminded me of my background and how it feels to be a positive impact instead of the negative one. Also, I am a lover of the ocean and its endless beauty, so any chance I have to help preserve it, I will take it.
Since this is an island that can only be reached by boat, we paired up and took canoes. Naturally, we would be placed in canoes with limited canoeing experience to add more adventure to the expedition. The wind was fighting us, and we were fighting the current of the water. It was a competition of stamina, endurance, and strength. Professor Bailly allowed us a pitstop on the way to the island to enter a path into the Mangrove Habitat, however, this proved to be another challenge rather than a rest stop. Canoes are easily stuck in the roots of Mangroves, so the teamwork needed to be exceptional to avoid a potential crisis.
Despite the struggle of the journey, it was rewarding and got our muscles ready for action. Upon arrival, I immediately had the urge to clean and once I started looking for things that shouldn’t be there, I couldn’t stop finding them. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions because seeing the litter was disappointing and disheartening but clearing it up gave a sense of relief and joy.
Where & What
This Chicken Key Cleanup took place in early October, October 6th, to be exact. It was early into the fall season, so the sun was still bright, and the temperatures were coming down slowly from their summer highs. The trip to and from Chicken Key by canoe was stressful but peaceful and the cleanup was extremely rewarding yet cut too short. We managed to fill every canoe which was about 10 canoes, if memory serves correctly, with anywhere from 2-6 bags filled with trash and some larger pieces of debris that could not fit in a trash bag. The most common trash I found was bottles, Styrofoam, and fisherman items like chum boxes and fishing line.
We found a lot of random items such as crates, massive plastic containers, shoes, and toothbrushes/toothpaste. What saddened me the most is how much ground there was left to cover when it was time to head back. I feel that we could have spent the whole day there and still would have only removed a portion of the trash found. When we got back to the Deering Estate, we were able to assist the employees of the Estate and throw our findings away in the dumpster for proper disposal. We emptied so many bags of trash, so it is insane to think that we managed all of that in just six hours. This cleanup allowed us to do so much, and I would not trade the experience for the world.
When reminiscing on this day, it is easy to get caught up in the fun of it all, but it is necessary to remember the reality of the situation. Our oceans are constantly being polluted with plastic, glass, Styrofoam, and so much more. Our oceans which make up most of this world that we live in are constantly suffering at the hands of humans. This cleanup was organized so that humans could correct the errors, in some way, of the other humans who were careless and reckless. This cleanup was organized to show the true level of harm that littering does and it succeeded. The day was an overall success, but I am sure that we could’ve been better prepared for what we endured. Being canoe amateurs did not help, but it was easy to get the hang of it when the correct rhythm was found between the front and back end of the canoe. I feel like what worked was our choice of using reusable trash bags despite them being rather small because we didn’t add to the pollution with our use of plastic. The size of the bags did not work very well because of how much there was to pick up, but all that meant was grabbing more bags every time we returned to base camp. The time spent there worked for the plan that was set that day, but I feel like we did not realize how much left there would be, so planning a longer trip might be beneficial to increase the amount collected. Overall, the day worked as it was supposed to, but as with anything, there is room for improvement, however, I loved every second spent out on the Bay and at Chicken Key. It was an experience I will never forget and would love to do again.