Jared Johnson: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio

Photo of Jared Johnson. Taken by Shae J./ CC by 4.0

My name is Jared Johnson and I am a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. I grew up and spent most of my life in Georgia but moved to South Florida in 2019. I am majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, I want to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand my online businesses.


I volunteered at the Deering Estate to perform a Chicken Key cleanup. However, due to the winds, I was unable to perform the cleanup because we were not able to canoe out to the island. Instead, I did a mangrove land cleanup. Deering Estate is a nature preserve located in southeast Miami-Dade county. It was originally built by Charles Deering in the 1920s, and was bought by the state of Florida in 1986. It is now a historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the house still contains some of the artifacts that Deering placed inside, a large amount was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Deering Estate now offers tours of the house and property as well as hosting different events throughout the year. The mangrove forest is right on the edge of the water and is basically a forest in water. This is one of the natural conservation areas managed by the Deering Estate.

Deering Estate bay. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0


This volunteering opportunity was part of the Miami in Miami course at FIU. This also was the last class of the year, so it was important to do something significant.  This cleanup excursion was organized and set up by the professor of Miami in Miami, John Bailly. Even though the mangroves seemed to have less trash than when I volunteered to clean up Chicken Key, there was still a noticeable amount present. In order to preserve the mangrove forest and the wildlife that is there, the Miami in Miami students spent a day collecting as much trash as possible. Picking up trash does not necessarily relate to my major, which is Computer Science. However, that does not mean that opportunities like this are not beneficial. After spending so much time in front of a computer, it is very refreshing to connect with nature and gain a different perspective. While picking up trash is not necessarily a specific interest of mine, I do enjoy doing whatever I can in my power to take care of the environment.

Destroyed trail in mangrove forest. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0


Honestly, this opportunity was not what I was expecting at all. I was prepared to perform a cleanup on Chicken Key, similar to what was done last semester. However, due to winds, the Deering Estate would not allow us to go out on the water, so it was decided that we would perform a cleanup of the mangrove forest instead. The mangrove forest had a boardwalk going through it, however, it was destroyed in a hurricane. Trash was littered throughout the area surrounding the destroyed boardwalk. Walking far through the mangroves, soon you would not hear any human sounds, only the sound of the wind blowing through the trees along with the quiet sounds of nature. Looking around, you could see the pieces of trash everywhere. It was noticeably out of place in an area that is supposed to be a nature conservation.

Spider found while cleaning up. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

Where & What

On April 20, 2022 both sections of the Miami in Miami class were supposed to canoe out to Chicken Key to pick up trash that had been building up on the island. Professor Bailly organized this through Deering Estate, which owns the island. However, on the day of the cleanup, the winds were too high and the Deering Estate did not let the class go out on the water. So instead, the class performed a mangrove forest cleanup. The mangrove forests are forests that are growing in the water, resembling a barrier or transition between seawater and dry land. Because of this, walking through them can be somewhat challenging since you’re walking through mud at times. The class was given two bags each for the purpose of collecting the trash items found in the forest. For the next couple hours, the classes walked through the forest and tried to collect as much trash as possible. Since the boardwalk was destroyed, I had to be careful when walking around it due to the old nails scattered around the wood. While I was looking for trash, I focused more on small pieces of plastic since this is what is most dangerous for the environment. Because of this, I never completely filled up my bag. Afterwards, I ate lunch by the water and then helped move the bags of trash to the dumpster and emptied them out. 



Pile of trash bags. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

Overall, I feel that this cleanup opportunity was a success, in spite of not having been able to do the Chicken Key cleanup. As soon as I found out that we were not going to be able to go out on the water and do the Chicken Key cleanup, I was very disappointed and did not think that we would end up doing anything worthwhile. This ended up not being the case. Even though there seemed to be less trash in the mangrove forest than Chicken Key, for whatever reason, there was still an abundance of noticeable trash to pick up. There were some challenges also, such as having to navigate through the maze of spider webs. It seemed like everywhere I turned there would be another spider web that I had to dodge or go around. The farther in the forest I went, the larger the spiders became. 

The last time I did a cleanup at the Deering Estate, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen and got a really bad sunburn. After that, I said that I would never make that mistake again. However, upon arriving at the Deering Estate for this cleanup, I realized that once again, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen. 

Once again, performing a cleanup at the Deering Estate was a very rewarding experience and allowed me to connect to nature in a way that I normally would not do. Furthermore, being the last class meeting of Miami in Miami, it must be said that the class as a whole has been an unique, eye opening experience for me. From slogging through the everglades to attending Art Basel on South Beach, these have been experiences that I will never forget.

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