Daniela Canizares: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

Daniela Canizares at History Miami Museum, September 2021, taken by Paola Castro (CC by 4.0)

Daniela is a Junior at Florida International University Honor College. Daniela was born and raised in Havana, Cuba and came to Miami when she was 15 years old. Having spent most of her life as a flamenco dancer, Daniela is really passionate about the influence Spain has in the American culture in general. She is currently majoring in Psychology and once she finishes her bachelors degree, she would like to further her studies and pursue a Masters in Science in Professional Counseling.

Miami in Miami Chicken Key cleanup October, 6, 2021. Photo by Daniela Canizares (CC by 4.0)


The Deering Estate is an environmental preserve listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It dates back to 1920 when Charles Deering from Chicago decided to establish his home in these 444 acres of land. In October 2021, I was able to volunteer on a cleanup in Chicken Key, an inhabited Island in the property of the Deering Estate. Here we collected all the debris coming from Key Biscayne and Old Cutler Road.


This cleanup opportunity is only available to FIU students and alumni. To me in specific, this clean-up was set for professor John Bailly as part of his Miami in Miami class. Both classes Miami in Miami I & II got together to make the time longer and be able to collect more trash.

This project in specific did not relate to my major, however ever since I was a kid, I found interesting the idea of giving back to the community. After Professor Bailly told us how inhabited this island was and how the turtles were dying due to choking with the plastics found in the island, I got excited about being part of this clean-up, and I wish it could have been in a longer period.


This opportunity was an eye-opener for me. It was the first time I had gone to an inhabited island just to clean it up. I never thought how much trash there was going to be and seeing the animals having to live with it was devastating. Throughout the day we kept finding crabs that would move stuff out of their way to walk.

Also, being able to meet the other people from Miami in Miami I was a unique experience. We were so used to seeing the same faces that it was like starting all over again introducing one another. The best part of the day by far was not being able to go on our phone due to the lack of signal. It was like getting away from the real world and focusing on a bigger issue.

Where and what

On the morning of October 6, 2021, both Miami in Miami classes met as one at Deering Estate in Palmetto Bay. After we got into the kayak, professor Bailly told us a little bit of a story behind Chicken Key and how every year he takes his students to clean up this inhabited island. Before getting to Chicken Key, we had our first stop at a natural arch, created by the mangroves of the zone. It was a relaxing experience since there was no water current and we could get there pretty easily. Being surrounded by that morning sun, and the cold-ish temperature in the morning was a great way to start the day. After that, we started heading to chicken key.

Images taken by Daniela Canizares (CC by 4.0)

Once we got there, the first thing to cross off the list was to get on the fresh water and get a refreshing taste of the quiet place. Then, we had lunch as a group before actually starting to pick up the human trash.

Filling our hands with two to three sandbags, we started our cleaning journey. We picked everything, from bottle caps to shoes. I was surprised at how many shoes we picked. We even found a flag attached to one of the trees. It was extremely sad and disappointing to see how the human itself is capable of these types of things.

Images taken by Daniela Canizares (CC by 4.0)

As we were walking through the island, we saw some crabs, and at least for me, was extremely devastating to see how they had to surround the trash to keep walking. What is even sadder is the fact that some of these crabs die because they try to find a new shelf, yet they get stuck in these water caps.
After picking up the trash we put them back into the kayaks and started heading back to the Deering Estate, but before getting there, we had to enjoy the quiet moment we had, and just laid down on the canoes, away from the city and the phone, completely away from reality.

Images taken by Daniela Canizares (CC by 4.0)

Once we got to the Deering Estate, we helped the staff to put all the trash away, as we thanked them for having us and being able to clean up for the animals living at Chicken Key


volunteering hours


In summary, I feel like the clean-up was such a great experience. I had taken a similar class before, however, I never got the opportunity of heading to this island. I felt such a privilege, as first off, almost anybody knows of the existence of this island, and the access to it is very limited. Being able to help in some shape was the greatest satisfaction I was able to take home with me that day. I am aware that maybe a year from now when another class goes again, there is going to be plenty of human debris again, yet I think that if we had never gone in the first place, then this trash would be accumulating.

I feel like the day not being that hot in Miami helped a lot, as the temperatures here usually tend to get in the way of everything. Another thing that helped was that there was little water current, which took us faster to the island and was faster to go back as well. Something that did not work, however, was that we were short on kayaks. I feel like if we would have had more kayaks, we could have picked more trash as we would have had more room for the bags. Another thing that I did not find fair was the short time we had. I wanted to stay longer to at least clear as much as we could.

I just feel happy overall that these types of clean-ups are taking place, as many people tend to think that if nobody lives there, they do not have any obligations with the island, and it should not be like that, as animals still live there.

Author: Daniela Canizares: Miami as Text

Daniela Canizares was born and raised in Cuba and moved to Miami when she was 15 years old. She is currently working towards her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University, planning on graduating in May 2023.

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