Letizia D’Avenia: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

Letizia D’Avenia is a Junior at the FIU Honors College, majoring in psychology with a declared track in the Industrial-Organizational specialization. She has lived her entire life in the city of Milan, Italy, and after moving to Miami three years ago, she became involved in different organizations on campus. Some of her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, drinking boba tea and collecting pins from different locations around the world.


I was able to partake in the clean up of Chicken Key, a small island about a mile off the shore of the Deering Estate, an historic site that belonged to Charles Deering until 1986, when it was purchased by the State of Florida, and added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Chicken Key constitutes one of the eight ecosystems present at the Deering Estate, and is a crucial habitat for the local flora and fauna. Unfortunately, this island is in the way of currents that bring polluting agents and debris, harming its entire ecosystem. 

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC BY 4.0)


This volunteer opportunity was presented to me through the FIU Honors College class “Miami in Miami”, taught by Professor John William Bailly. The class is structured in order for the students to explore different parts of Miami and become knowledgeable of its history, its culture and environmental topics. The area of Biscayne Bay is slowly deteriorating due to different polluting agents, putting at risk the organisms living in it. Although my major is psychology, the fight for environmental change is a cause that I am spirited about. I was raised in Italy, where the Mediterranean sea is one of the most popular vacation destinations. I spent countless summers swimming in the crystal sea of Sicily, learning to love its natural beauty and its secrets. Becoming older has allowed me to truly grasp the danger that global pollution is and will cause to the oceans worldwide, and I am dedicated to investing as much time and energy as I can to make a change.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC BY 4.0)


Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key  (CC BY 4.0)

I already knew what this opportunity entailed, since I had already participated in a Chicken Key clean up; however the peacefulness of the island is always a pleasure, and getting away from the loudness of the city is a breath of fresh air. The fish swimming away from the canoes, a bird staring at me from a far away tree and hermit crabs crawling around remind me about the many organisms living on Earth, and how important it is to respect them. It was also interesting to compare my current classmates to the ones in my previous class; the first time I came to Chicken Key, it was our last class and we had plenty of chances to get to know each other, so joking and splashing around felt natural. This semester, this excursion was our third one and the  shyness and awkwardness could definitely be felt in the atmosphere. However being on a deserted island for more than three hours will most definitely bring you closer to the people you have around, and I was able to form new friendships and connections.


Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key (CC BY 4.0)

It was a sunny Wednesday, and my day started on a canoe, fighting against the strong winds and almost getting stuck in the mangroves. I proposed the idea to Professor Bailly to explore the mangroves opening like the semester prior. However, I did not realize that on the present day, the tide was much higher, and instead of having a clear tunnel, the branches of the mangroves were face-level, meaning that we had to basically bend into the canoe to avoid spiderwebs and crabs on our face. After what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the island. I was thrilled to start working and after eating a tuna sandwich, I grabbed three bags and started collecting trash. This semester we used recyclable trash bags, an environmentally-friendly option to avoid producing even more waste. Nevertheless, these bags were much smaller, forcing me to return to the canoes and change bags more frequently. From the previous clean-up, I learned that the majority of the trash is deeper into the island; therefore, I hiked for a solid ten minutes and I reached an isolated part of Chicken Key. Some of my strangest findings were unopened baby formula, a fancy bottle of liquor and a brand new golf ball. After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to land. The returning journey was not as exhausting, and me and my canoe partner were able to rest. Once we got back to the shore, we loaded a truck with all the trash bags and emptied them out in the dumpster on the Deering Estate property. While driving back home, I realized how this excursion is always eye opening, since no matter how much trash we pick up, there is constantly new debris that gets deposited on the island on a daily basis. The real effort that needs to be done is to eradicate the issue of pollution at its root by using reusable plastic and recycling correctly, instead of picking up the tons of plastic that has already been thrown away.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Chicken Key (CC BY 4.0)



By doing the excursion to Chicken Key, you never know fully what is going to happen. There is always that suspense of what great sea creatures you might encounter or how powerful the current might be that day. 

An aspect of the clean up that I wish worked better and was not as tedious is the action of canoeing to the island. My arms usually feel too sore to even hold the plastic bags open once we start the cleaning process. The canoes’ space is limited, allowing the different clean-up groups to only be able to load an overall small amount of bags compared to the immense quantity of debris on the island. The feeling of hopelessness while cleaning up all that trash and seeing how much more there is that I will not be able to take back with me always takes a strong emotional toll. Noticing the small plastic pieces becomes even more painful, since no matter how many are picked up, by digging a little further in the algae there will always be more. The smaller the plastic, the more harm it does, since it becomes easier to swallow for all animals, and causes them to die of starvation or asphyxiation from choking on it.

During these excursions, what works amazingly is the awareness brought to each one of us: seeing in front of our eyes how much garbage is brought to this island is definitely a wake up call, it makes this “abstract” idea of global pollution extremely real. Furthermore, the empowering feeling of knowing that I was making a change in the world made me want to continue picking up trash, no matter how tired I was. Being connected to a healthy and clean environment is so important for the human race to be alive, and my generation needs to be the one actively fighting for a change, because if we do not, the situation will become disastrous and the world as we know it today will never exist again.

Photo by Deering Estate Affiliate (CC BY 4.0)


“Deering Family.” Deering Estate, 18 Oct. 2021, https://deeringestate.org/history/deering-family/.

“Pollution Is Killing Biscayne Bay, There’s Very Little Time to Save It, and It’s Going to Cost a Lot of Money to Rescue It: Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.” The Greater Miami Chamber Of Commerce, https://www.miamichamber.com/news/pollution-killing-biscayne-bay-theres-very-little-time-save-it-and-its-going-cost-lot-money.

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