Imani Woodin: Miami Service 2021

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.


Miami in Miami 2021-2022 photo by John Bailly CC 4.0

On October 6th of 2021, my FIU Honors class and I took a mile long canoe trip to a tiny island called Chicken Key which is located off the coast of the Deering Estate. The island has no man made structures on it like roads or homes. What has started to fester around the sand and mangroves, however, is trash that washes upon the island and suffocates the wildlife in the area such as water bottles, broken pieces of plastic, and styrofoam- when I was there, I even saw a stop sign laying in the sand. Almost anything harmful to natural life has found its way into Chicken Key.

To show you how bad the trash is and how well it blends into the area, we’re going to play a game of Spot the Trash. In these two pictures below, you’ll have to spot where the trash blends in. Slide the bar to the right of the photo to see the original picture and slide it to the left to see the answer. Let me know if you’ve spotted trash that I didn’t see!

Spot the difference round 2 by Imani Woodin CC 4.0


Before going to Chicken Key, I had done beach clean ups in elementary school with my girl scout troop. Back then, I was upset that I had to wake up early on a weekend and be in the hot sun all day. I remember dragging my feet along the sand just waiting for the day to end. 

Picking up trash. Selfie by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The day I went to Chicken Key was different. I still woke up early to be there and I got baked by the sun, but in contrast, I found the task to be therapeutic. As I’ve mentioned in my other As Text blogs, my appreciation for nature has deepened the longer I’ve stayed in this concrete city. Not only was it relaxing to go back to a natural environment and listen to the sound of the waves lapping onto the mangroves, but I also felt a sense of fulfillment while aiding the nature. 

Recently, I heard someone say that nature cannot remove its toxins, instead it finds a way to react to them in ways like heat waves and hurricanes. Even if my effort that day in Chicken Key did not solve climate change, it was a small step in the right direction. Nature cannot cleanse itself, but at least I could do my part to help it.Another reason I might have found it fulfilling is because of a realization I had recently. As an international relations student, most of what I’m taught is on a multi-national scale. However, when I study thinking with that mindset, I begin to think in a more global mindset… to the point where I neglect my local community and environment. The more I accepted the world as my home, the more I failed to look after my local topography. Not only this, but I also realized that what happens locally affects the world: the pollution that happens here in Miami affects the ocean waters which touch every corner of the world. So my effort is felt worldwide, I just have to focus on being present.


My professor, John Bailly, had the idea to do a clean up at this location long before instructing this section of Miami in Miami. During the trip, he told us that he had kayaked to the island a few years back and all he could see was mounds of trash. He showed us a picture of how it was the first time he went out there and in some places you couldn’t even see the sand under the garbage. Since he could not clean the island up in one day, he goes back periodically to conserve the island’s natural state. On this particular day, he brought us with him.

Professor Bailly’s first trip to Chicken Key photo by John Bailly CC 4.0


After arriving at the Deering Estate at ten in the morning, two of my classmates and I got onto a canoe and set sail with our lunches, water bottles, and sandbags-turned-reusable-trash-bags in tow. We first set sail in the wide port at the estate. The wind was blowing gently against our skin. Our arm movements were synchronized as we paddled in a steady motion. I remember thinking to myself that there was no rush, we would get there eventually, as I squinted at the tiny dot in the distance.

My amazing canoeing partner Joheily at the Deering Estate port. Photo taken by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

The island got bigger and bigger in view until we were close enough to duck the mangroves that stuck out. All around the island, I noticed, were huge pieces of trash mangled in the mangroves.  Once we found a place to dock, we set our belongings down and went out in the bay for a swim to cool off. After a little while, we returned, ate lunch, then started the clean up. 

While collecting trash, my first impression was that there’s been some improvement since Professor Bailly’s first visit: no longer are there mounds of trash, but there is still a plethora of plastic, glass, and styrofoam scattered around the island in pieces both large and small. Most of the trash, though, is so small that it’s mixed into the sand. Even when you dig 6 inches down, you still see little shards of plastic in every color- some come from Solo cups, others from inflatable rafts. They’ve all become part of the island.

Pulling into Chicken Key with my other canoemate, Samantha. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.
Small pieces of trash. Photo by Imani Woodin CC 4.0.

My goal was to get as many of those shards as possible. While I saw most people walk around the island and spot the large pieces of trash, I thought that they wouldn’t need another person to do that so I spent my hours sifting through the sand and pulling the tiny parasites out.



Although trying to weed out the shards of plastic was honorable, I would have to admit that in the couple hours I spent sifting through the sand, I probably only collected 0.001% of all the plastic on the island. This might sound discouraging, but overall I know I did more harm than good that day, and that’s really all I can hope to do.

I loved spending time in nature, I think it can reset something in a person and reground you. Overall, I had a rewarding day that I will never forget. Thank you Professor Bailly for bringing us out there. I hope to return soon.

Nature at the Deering Estate by Imani Woodin CC 4.0
Trash our class collected by Imani Woodin CC 4.0

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