Joheily Rodriguez: Miami Service Project 2021


Photographed by Tammy Gomez// CC by 4.0

Joheily Rodriguez is a junior working towards a B.A. in Biological Sciences with a minor in chemistry at Florida International University (FIU), as a part of their Honors College. Passionate about medicine and the environment, she is looking to pursue a role in medicine as a physician.  In her free time, she enjoys painting, playing music, and hanging out with friends.


Photographed by Catherine Carrasco// CC by 4.0

I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Deering estate located on the Biscayne Bay campus in Miami, Florida. The Deering Estate is a recognized museum in Miami,  miles off the coast that preserves Miami’s native fauna and flora and is home to eight different native ecosystems. I specifically participated in a clean-up of an uninhabitable island a few miles offshore that is protected and preserved by the Deering Estate. According to the “Deering estate campfires archives”, the Chicken Key is a seven-acre mangrove island and a bird rookery. The Chicken Key clean-up was organized by Professor John Bailly and his teaching assistant Claudia Martinez. 

The Estate preserves the native ecosystem of Florida, however, this conservation and preservation are even more crucial now due to overpopulation and overdevelopment in Miami which led to the endangering and destruction of these ecosystems. The Deering Estate works extremely hard to not only preserve but to educate the people of Miami, Florida.


Photographed by Joheily Rodriguez// CC by 4.0

I was able to be part of this opportunity through the Honors College in my class in Miami. This class focuses on teaching its students the history of Miami through excursions and experiences, showcasing the good and the bad that had to take place in order to make Miami what it is today. This class is an eye-opener and allows its students to see Miami as more than just a busy luxurious city. 

This relates directly to my major. As a student pursuing a major in Biology, I can relate this to the many classes I take on fauna and flora. This semester, I especially took a Plant Botany class where we focused a lot on the native flora of Florida. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience personally to learn about the native plants and animals of Florida and be able to observe them in their natural ecosystem, thanks to the Chicken Key clean-up, I was able to experience such an event. This has helped me to excel in my Plant Botany class because I can connect the content to experience. Aside from that unique experience, I have always been interested in climate change as well as marine life conservation. It brought great sadness to see all the plastic on the island knowing how much of a negative effect plastic has on marine life. Microplastic in particular is very dangerous for marine life as it disturbs the food chain structures set in place for marine life to drive. Having microplastic in a mangrove island brought great concern as the island serves as a nursery for young marine life.

Photographed by Joheily Rodriguez// CC by 4.0


I connected with this opportunity through the Miami in Miami course and  Because the reality of a pandemic is still present, Professor John Bailly was able to provide the class with this fantastic opportunity. We were able to make a positive impact on the community while still keeping our distance from crowds. While at the Deering Estate, we were able to go to the uninhabitable island Chicken Key and pick up debris without putting ourselves at risk to contract Covid-19.


Photographed by Claudia Martinez// CC by 4.0

We met at the Deering estate entrance at 10:00 AM on October 6th, 2021. From there,  we picked up our paddles and life-vests and headed to the Deering Estate bay dock. Shortly after, we started our one-mile journey to Chicken Key. In the beginning, I was a little concerned because,  even though I have kayaked before, I have never canoed and I have always heard that it is easier to flip on a canoe. It was really reassuring to have someone on the canoe with me that had previous experience and soon enough all three of us were working beautifully. I have never been out in the open water but it was a daring and peaceful experience. 

While making our way to the Chicken Key, we made one stop where we entered a mangrove forest. After talking about the importance of mangroves and their preservation we continued our journey to Chicken Key. Once on the island, we ate lunch and some of us decided to get in the water for a quick soak as it was a very sunny day. 

Photographed by Joheily Rodriguez// CC by 4.0

After our small break, the clean-up started. According to the professor and classmates that took this class previously, Chicken Key seems cleaner than in previous times. Even then there was a lot of debris, microplastic was present in a decent quantity, lots of bottle caps and random items from shoes to rags and large pieces of wood. This was a new experience for me as well. I never have done a clean-up before so I decided to focus on finding as much microplastic as I could.

After all the garbage collection, we mounted all debris onto our canoes, as much as we could, and headed back to the Deering Estate. The trip to Chicken Key was nice and a peaceful trip. However, my group and I struggled to paddle back to the mainland due to high winds and water movement. After our difficult journey back, we unloaded the debris onto a truck, followed the truck and, helped empty out the trash. I’m sure we all felt accomplished and proud to help in our own little way. 



Photographed by Tammy Gomez// CC by 4.0

This experience was very unique and helped me move out of my comfort zone, but there were a few parts that were more difficult than others. 

Something that was challenging was canoeing, personally, I feel like there were a couple of experienced individuals, but for the most part, a lot of us were inexperienced when it came to canoeing. Making our way to the Chicken Key was manageable, however, making our way back to the Deering estate was very frustrating and tiring for me as someone who is new to the sport. Perseverance was definitely key during this experience. I also struggled and was intimidated by, being isolated in the wild. I was freaking out and uncomfortable, however, I quickly realized that I was not here to sit by the sand and watch the sunset while I sip on a nice drink.  I was here to help this struggling ecosystem and make my own little change in the world. 

It was uplifting to be around people that were willing to help.  Some of us struggled to keep our canoe straight. Thanks to helpful advice from experienced individuals and encouragement, my team and I were able to persevere. One thing that worked, and that I was personally proud of, was the use of reusable bags to pick up debris. Instead of getting big black plastic bags to just toss in the trash, we collected the trash with reusable sandbags, which will be reused when going to Chicken Key again. 

Photographed by Imani Woodin// CC by 4.0

Overall, I think this experience was rewarding in itself. There was dirt and there were hardships. But in the midst of that, there was teamwork, fun and most importantly, we made our own mark to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves as humans, but for animals with who we share this space.


Bailly, John. “Miami in Miami Destinations.” Miami in Miami, 26 Aug. 2021,

“Campfires Archives.” Deering Estate, 1 Nov. 2021,

“Chicken Key in Miami-Dade County Chicken Key (in Miami-Dade County, FL),

“Conservation.” Deering Estate, 2 Nov. 2021,

Author: Joheily Rodriguez

Joheily Rodriguez is an honors junior studying biological sciences with a minor in chemistry. "When I am not working as a Resident Assistant, I like to journal, go out to eat with friends, and painting."

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