Verónica Guzmán Betancourt: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio

Verónica Guzmán Betancourt is a Junior at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.  She is pursuing a major in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice, while being a member of the Honors College. After graduation in Spring  2023, she plans on continuing her education in Forensic Psychology.


All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0 

The Deering Estate is located in the Palmetto Bay area of Miami, Florida. This fabulous organization was founded in the 1920s by Charles Deering. The estate is now listed as a conservation site, as it houses part of local history and provides access to the Atlantic Ocean. 

This land provides a safe house to an entire ecosystem. Manatees and pelicans happily live in the waters that surround the Deering Estate. There is also a historic mangrove trail that I got the chance to explore. Unfortunately, throughout time, trash flows in from the ocean. People who litter as they pass by on their boats do not realize the dire effect they have on the land. Regardless of the distance, water is an endless medium, and with help from the wind, anything and everything can travel immense distances. Human pollution is one of the leading causes of the decrease in biodiversity in the world, as well as contributing to climate change. Human impact on nature has caused a lot of damage.


All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0 

The Mangrove Trail is part of what is called the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve. Here you can find many types of animals, exploring and living their best life. As we ventured into the mangroves, we encountered crabs and spiders everywhere we looked. These animals play a huge role in the maintenance of the ecosystem, however human activity is endangering their habitat. It was incredible to see the amount of trash that we were able to pick up. Without necessarily having to go deep into the mangroves, we filled up bags upon bags of trash that had floated in from the ocean. 

This opportunity was presented to me by my professor, John Bailly. He was able to coordinate a fantastic day out on the Deering Estate, as two of his Miami in Miami classes joined in efforts of making the mangroves a better place. Conservation and marine biology are not the focus on my studies, however I have always loved the ocean. I was blessed to have grown up in South Florida with the ocean right at my fingertips. I had the privilege to experience ocean life, which is something many people do not get. Nonetheless, I have always loved being exposed to nature. My childhood consisted of me being involved with animals and their environments, so this opportunity was great for me. 


As a Florida International University student, particularly from being part of the Honors College, I have been fortunate to be in classes like Miami in Miami. This last year, I have spent entire days getting to know the marvels of Miami. We connect with the history and culture of our people. We go to places that most of us had never been before, even those who have lived here for a while. With the help of both Miami in Miami classes, we were able to come together to help clean the mangrove’s home. As a group we supported each other every step of the way, knowing that for some the experience might be somewhat uncomfortable. This did take most of us out of our comfort zone, but we pushed through, having in mind the main goal which was the enrichment of our planet. Even by helping out such a small part of the world, we are contributing to the environment. Little changes over a long period of time always make a difference, for the better.

Where & What

All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0

The Deering Estate gave us the green light to enter this area, which had been blocked off. The bridge that led people through the mangroves has been destroyed and with the struggles that came with the COVID-19 pandemic it has not been redone yet. We navigated through the muddy land, dodging the many spiderwebs that lingered throughout. A lot of us had some reservations going into the mangroves as all the critters we saw petrified us. Some of us climbed parts of the broken bridge to try to get to the other side of the mangroves. Each of us had 2 bags initially and for some it was not enough. Many had to go all the way back to the entrance of the trail to get more bags to fill up. 

Among the things we found were illegal marine traps and insect repellent from Cuba. A classmate found four pairs of shoes laying around. I found a lot of plastic, many water bottle caps and parts of bags. There was a lot of trash left behind that floated its way deep into the mangroves. A lot of people like to canoe or kayak by the mangroves, some even use their boats. 



This experience is one that will, for sure, stay with me forever. I will always remember how much fun I had with my classmates, as we supported each other through the quest. Navigating the mangroves was no easy task, especially when so many things there frightened me. It was so reassuring to know that everyone there was caring not only for the environment but also for each other. I hope that by sharing this experience with people, I can inspire them to become involved, or keep being involved, in the betterment of our planet. I know that we, as humans, are to blame for many of the detriments we see, but we can turn it all around and leave a long-lasting effect in our communities. By teaching others about how important it is to be caring and compassionate for this planet, we can hope to keep passing it on for generations to come. In a world ruled by innovations and technology, we tend to stray away from our connection with Mother Nature. I hope that more people realize how beautiful our home is and start valuing it for all of its riches, as we only have one planet and one life to make it right. 

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