Natalia Sanchez is a senior pursuing her B.S. in criminal justice and a certificate in geographical information systems at Florida International University (FIU). She hopes to become a crime scene investigator with the Miami Dade police department. Natalia is passionate about helping others, therefore she is a volunteer for the bubble city community project and student support services. During her free time, she participates with the FIU Winterguard, goes on runs, hangs out with friends, and goes to local concerts.
For my fall 2021 semester, I decided to volunteer at the Deering Estate. The Deering Estate is a well-known botanical garden located in Miami-Dade. More specifically, it is positioned on the coast of Biscayne Bay. The Deering Estate was a property owned by Charles Deering, a man passionate about the conservation of the environment. In 1986, almost 59 years after Charles Deering’s passing, the Deering Estate was purchased by the state of Florida. The property was then added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Conservation is crucial for this property because it is one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) in Miami-Dade County. The estate is about 460 acres and is home to 8 different ecosystems. These include the coastal dunes, seagrass beds, salt marshes, pine Rocklands, mangrove forests, and tropical hardwood hammocks. It is also home to archeological and ecological sites, crucial to the history and development of Miami.
At the Deering Estate, I specifically volunteered to clean up the island of Chicken Key. The uninhabited island of Chicken Key is a seven-acre mangrove island and it is about one mile off-shore. The island is also a bird rookery so it is important for the development of many endangered species, both animal and terrain.
I decided to embark on this project for multiple reasons. The first one is that I am part of the FIU honors college. A requirement for every member of the college is to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. Another reason why I chose to volunteer at the Deering Estate is that I was able to come to this property thanks to the Miami in Miami course for the FIU Honors College. Coming to the Deering estates and kayaking to chicken key was one of the tasks we were going to complete.
A third reason why I decided to volunteer is that I have always been passionate about volunteering. Since the age of 12, I have always been involved with all types of volunteering groups or projects. I enjoy helping others. I saw it as a perfect opportunity to give back to my community. I also love and respect the environment. We are so lucky to have such a unique environment in Miami and I think it should be protected before it is too late.
This volunteer opportunity was also perfect due to the fact that I had never been to the Deering Estate before. I had never heard of this property until I took the FIU Miami in Miami honors course. Once I heard about it and did some research on the property, I was extremely excited to visit it with the class and give back to our environment.
This trip and service definitely made an impact on me. I have always been someone that has been afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone. I also cannot swim and I am a shy person. Because of this, I thought it would never be possible to try out activities such as kayaking.
However, I definitely developed as a person this day because I tackled the trip with an open mind. Thanks to the motivation and support of my professor, John Bailly, I was able to learn how to safely kayak. I was paired up with two other classmates which helped me feel safer.
Where and what
On October 6, 2021, we met at the entrance of the Deering estate right at 10:00 AM. From there we proceeded to go to the building that stores the life jackets and paddles for the kayak. We then waited by the shore for the rest of the class to arrive and to discuss the game plan for the day. Once we were clear for instructions it was time to hop onto the water and make our trip to chicken key!
The trip to the island was a bit hectic due to the fact that most of us had no experience with kayaks. However, once we figured out the motions we were able to start traveling as a group. First, we went into a path of water which led us to see some mangroves up close. Once we got out that path we sailed straight to chicken key. Once we got there, we secured the kayaks and had some time to enjoy the island. We went swimming, walked around to see the animals and plants inhabiting the island, and made connections with other classmates.
After our lunch, it was time to get to work. We grabbed reusable bags and split off into pairs. I walked around the majority of the island with my classmate Samantha. Aside from picking up all the trash that was visible, we were more focused on picking up microplastics, bottle caps, and just smaller trash in general. There was so much trash on the island that we filled up all of our reusable bags and they were too heavy for one person to carry.
Once we were all done collecting trash, we loaded the bags onto the kayaks and started our trip back to the coast. The tide of the water was stronger in the afternoon so it was more of a struggle trying to get back. The kayak I was in did have its moments when it would spin away and get caught in a current but we were able to shift and arrive at the shore. Once at the shore we all safely unloaded the trash and threw it away.
This experience is definitely one that I will cherish forever. I had so much fun and I felt like a different person by the end of the day. I was able to step out of my comfort zone by trying the activity of kayaking, socializing with other students, and being surrounded by raw nature.
However, the day did have its challenges. Learning how to control the kayak during a day when the ocean had a plan of its own was tough but we were able to get through it. Another challenge was seeing the amount of trash on the island. It really made me disappointed in our society because we fail to realize how important it is to not litter. We are so ignorant as to how valuable the land we are on is.
Despite those challenges, I left the Deering estate with a different perspective. Volunteering at the Deering Estate gave me an opportunity to escape from the noisy Miami. I cannot wait for my next visit.
“Conservation.” Deering Estate, 2 Nov. 2021, https://deeringestate.org/conservation/.
“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 21 Oct. 2021, https://deeringestate.org/history/.
“Moonlight Kayak Tour at Deering Estate.” Deering Estate, 1 Nov. 2021, https://deeringestate.org/event/moonlight-tour/2022-01-14/.