Adrian Mills: Miami Service Project 2021

Miami Service Project: Chicken Key

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Student Bio

Hello! I am Adrian Mills and I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however, I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU, and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it.  I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however, I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer.  My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for exploring new experiences.


The main institution that this clean-up was a part of is the FIU Honors College, more specifically the Miami in Miami/Discover Miami Honors Course and the Deering Estate. I volunteered alongside the rest of my classmates and our professor, John Bailly at Chicken Key, a mangrove island offshore of the Deering Estate in Miami, Florida. 

Why  and  How

There are many reasons why I selected this volunteering opportunity, relating both to my interests, community service, its importance, and even family tradition. 

Personally, although being secondary, I have done many similar volunteer clean-ups throughout my life. It is something that I used to do as a family, as my dad, being an Environmental Engineer for the EPA, often took my whole family on these clean-ups making them a family event. Most of this Cleanup was classified as River Sweeps and focused primarily on cleaning up sections of the Ohio River, back near Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio where I grew up. I still have many of the shirts they would give out at some of these events. I even had last year signed up to do the Biscayne Bay cleanup with my dad as he was going to be in Miami at that time, but it, unfortunately, canceled because it was scheduled for a couple of days after everything shut down because of COVID 19. 

Secondly but more importantly, the overall concepts, importance, and impact that doing community cleanups, especially in bodies of water, being rivers, the ocean, etc,  have is the obvious primary reason, I try to do activities such as these as much as  I can. 

Pollution is such a large issue and it is an especially large issue in the oceans. Not even discussing the carbon sequestration process, or oil spills, or any other types of pollution, just regarding physical debris and waste is estimated to reach 600 million metric tons, by 2040, with the best current estimates made in 2015 being 150 million metric tones (2).  The primary debris and waste is plastic, which doesn’t really ever go away, only becoming smaller pieces, which arguably do even more damage to marine life and ecosystems. It is estimated that over 1 million marine animals die every year directly due to plastic waste and debris (2). Not only is this a massive issue but there are countless other effects on the precious marine ecosystems that are already dying from climate change, and carbon sequestration. These issues are some of the many environmental and sustainability crises that humans have caused in the past century, and they are only going to continue to get worst unless they are truly addressed. 

Despite the large scale of the issue, and what may seem like a never-ending task, cleanups do help the local ecosystems, and it’s imperative that we all play a small role in trying to address these issues and make the world a better place. It is with this idea in mind that cleanups such as the ones conducted on the Chicken Key are so important for the conservation and marine life and animal species. 

The overwhelming climate crisis and all the other environmental issues, and overall sustainability, are some of the main interests of mine that I hope to be able to continue to address and help to move into the future. I hope to use my education and time at FIU and other universities, as I aim to put my extensive knowledge and experience I have worked hard to obtain, to work, and use what I know to help make the world a better, more sustainable place.

I connected with this opportunity in many ways, as aforementioned, volunteering and cleanups such as the one I and the rest of my class were able to participate in, are always something I strive to be a part of as it is an enjoyable fun experience that allows us to make a little bit of a difference in some particular ecosystem and contribute to addressing the large issue at hand. 

Where and What

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in this volunteering experience 2 times within this semester, as I did once for my initial honors class, with John Bailly as the professor, and another time as there was an opening for a second date. 

The first day was on Friday, April 9th, 2021 and the second day was on April 17th, 2021. 

Both days followed similar layouts and involved canoeing from the Deering Estate to Chicken Key, and then cleaning up trash for several hours, before loading everything up into the canoes and returning to the Deering Estate.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Starting out in the morning all the volunteers met at the Deering Estate, with Canoes, paddles, lifejackets, and backpacks in hand. Everyone partnered up and choose a canoe, and eventually one by one, we all pushed our canoes into the water and got in. The next 30-45 minutes or so, the groups of 6-7 canoes, all paddled out of the initial inlet area near the Deering Estate and paddled initially exploring a mangrove tunnel, before venturing back out to the open water and toward chicken key an around 1.25 miles before following the shoreline and meeting at the Northern part of the island. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

After tying the canoes and unloading our stuff, we enjoyed a quick swim and lunch, before heading out all around the island and picking up as much garbage as we could. I initially followed the shoreline, picking up garbage working my way to the south side of the island. I quickly filled up two bags, and then was able to fill up 2 more that I had found while picking up garbage. Eventually, towards the southern side of the island, Bailly brought some canoes, and we loaded up the full garbage bag at this meeting point. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

We all continue picking up garbage, finding items from shoes, to chairs, to mattresses, to hundred and hundred of bottles, and other small plastic debris. On the second day, I was there, myself and 3 other venture to the very southern point of the island, where there was so much trash, that we were able to fill up 8 bags within 30 minutes or so. Eventually, everyone made their way back to canoes with all the garbage bags now full. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Once the canoes were full, we walked them back to the initial meeting spot, for a quick last swim, before distributing all the garbage between the canoes and setting off back to the Deering Estate. 

The venture back was a little different and more difficult on both days, I was there. Everyone with their full canoes heading into the wind sometimes struggled to start on course. On the first day, I recall around halfway back 5 canoes came together and formed a large canoe with all of us as a team working together to make our way back, eventually, this did break, up but it was a fun idea. The second day the wind was definitely worse and it made the trip back difficult for many of the canoes. Being somewhat experienced with canoeing and my partner being experienced as well, we were able to quickly make our way back to the estate, unload, and then paddle back to help with some of the other groups,. I switched with another person, and we were able to all make our way back safely. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

We then helped unload all the canoes, and load all the garbage onto a truck, then helped unload the truck into some dumpsters nearby. Overall this was an amazing experience, especially being able to be out in the world doing fun things with others as the last year has been so limited. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)



Overall the Chicken Key Service project was an amazing experience because I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with another student in my class, and more importantly the local environment around us while being able to work on restoring the natural ecosystem of the mangrove island and clean up an impressive amount of garbage. I hope to continue to participate in similar projects, as it has been something that I have truly enjoyed for a very long time.  Being able to be a part of a project like this and the fun, experience of canoeing, swimming, while also playing a small role in making the world a better place, was an experience that I will never forget, and look forward to doing other similar activities in the future.

Word Count

Total Word Count: 1545 (excluding section names and instructional sentences)


  1. “Deering Estate Chicken Key.” John William Bailly, 22 Mar. 2020, 
  2. Parker, Laura. “Plastic Trash Flowing into the Seas Will Nearly Triple by 2040 without Drastic Action.” Science, National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2021, -done. 

All photos were taken by myself or one of the other volunteers participating in the cleanup. 

Adrian Mills: Key Biscayne 2021

Ineffable Miami: Key Biscayne

Student Bio

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Hello! I am Adrian Mills. I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however, I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU, and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it.  I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however, I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer.  My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for exploring new experiences.


Photos Courtesy of Google Maps

Key Biscayne is a town on a barrier island offshore of Miami, connected by the Rickenbacker Causeway. It lies between 2 parks, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park. 

Both of the parks have long beaches, mangroves, and tropical forests, many areas to picnic, swim, kayak, fish and is home to many different species of birdlife and marine life. 

The town itself is surrounded by the parks at either side and the east by the Atlantic ocean and the west by Biscayne Bay.  The name Biscayne Key is technically incorrect as the island is not a geologically part of the Florida Keys, but rather is a barrier island formed from the sand eroded from the Appalachian Mountains and carried to the coast by rivers until it is deposited at the island carried by the ocean currents (1). There is no hard bedrock near the surface of the island, only layers of weak “shelly sandstone” Key Biscayne’s natural landscape include the dense mangrove forest near the shoreline, with interior land covered by tropical hardwood, and the large area of coral reefs and other marine features that extend offshore (10).


Key Biscayne, while at first seems to just be a relatively unimportant small barrier Island off the coast of Southern Florida near Miami, actually has a complex intriguing history that may not be very widely known to the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit each year. 

Starting at the beginning, the first known inhabitants of Key Biscayne were the indigenous people called the Tequestas.  Many artifacts have been found on the island, shells, bones, and other tools that indicate fairly extensive habitation by the people known as the Tequesta. There is even evidence that a  large community lived on the island around 1,500 to 2,000 years ago (7).

The Tequesta were a Native American people that lived throughout most of the Southeastern parts of Florida, mainly Biscayne Bay, much of what is now Miami Dade County, to the Florida Keys,  from 3rd century BCE to the mid-18th century (12). What little is known about the Tequesta includes that they hunted, fished, and gathered various parts of plants, but had not developed or practiced any agriculture? This unique group of people had their developed language, way of life, and had lived that way for hundreds of years before being disrupted by the European settlements. They did make contact with the Europeans as mentioned earlier but the Tequesta and their descendants met a similar fate as most other Natives throughout the Americas. 

However, eventually, in 1513, Juan Ponce de León on the 1st mission to the New World, officially explored Key Biscayne,  claimed it for Spain, and named the island Santa Marta(10).

The next notable European that was thought to explore Key Biscayne was Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. According to the historical record, Aviles’s ship took refuge in Biscayne Bay from a storm in 1565, and in the time there established notable relations with the Tequesta (12).

However regarding the origins of the name Key Biscayne,  apparently it was recorded that a sailor from the Bay of Biscay, called the Viscayno, had lived on the southeastern coast of Florida after being shipwrecked. Additionally, a map from the 17th century shows the label of  Cayo de Biscainhos, which is thought to eventually lead to the name Biscayne Bay and Key Biscayne (7).

Much later, Florida became a territory of the US after the First Seminole War that resulted in a treaty with Spain in 1821.  Eventually, Seminole and Black Seminoles began to migrate into central/southern Florida as they were essentially forced thereby many other US settlers. This eventually led to the hundreds of escaped slaves and Black Seminoles leaving the US to the Bahamas from Cape Florida, the location of the Cape Florida Lighthouse that was constructed in 1825 (3). 

Moving to its History of Development, Key Biscayne was first developed for the cultivation of produce, primarily coconut. By the 1830’s it is recorded that  Mature coconut trees were on the island, which is thought to be grown by John Dubose, the first lighthouse keeper of The Cape Florida lighthouse. 

In around 1902 William John Matheson visited Biscayne Bay and then built a home in Coconut Grove. In 1908 Matheson began buying up the property on Key Biscayne and created a large plantation community. In this community it is said that he employed over  60 workers,  including housing for the workers and their families, docks, a school, barns, windmills, and 15 miles of road, essentially creating a small town (7).

In 1940,  it is recorded that the Matheson family donated 808 acres of their land to Miami Dade County to be used to create a public park, which is now Crandon Park, (5). It was in this agreement that the County would build a bridge connecting Mey Biscayne to Miami, and eventually, after some delay due to WW2, the four-mile-long Rickenbacker Causeway was constructed from Miami to Virginia Key and on to Key Biscayne in 1947, which allowed further large-scale development of the Key Biscayne Area (9).

On the opposite side of the island,  the southern section of Key Biscayne was owned by James and eventually Charles Deering. “But in 1948 José Manuel Áleman, a Cuban politician in exile bought the Cape Florida property from the Deering Estate. After Áleman died in 1951, his widow, Elena Santeiro Garcia, added to the Cape Florida property by buying an area of land that also included a canal that had been dug by Matheson in the 1920s” (9).  This canale extended from the bay and extended most of the length of the island. The land located north was completely developed and is what is now known as the Village of Key Biscayne. In 1966, Garcia sold the Cape Florida property to the State of Florida and this land is what eventually became known as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, 1967. 

In the most recent years, the construction of several large resorts, hotels, condominium complexes, and shopping centers on the island has affected the initially peaceful island life, but the entirety of Key Biscayne continues to become a more and more commercialized place (10).


According to the United States Census Bureau, Key Biscayne Village has an area of about  1.4 square miles, with around 1.3 square miles being land and 0.1 square miles being water. The population was 12,344 at the 2010 census and more recently it was population was estimated as 12,846 in 2019 (11.)

In 2020, with a population measured of 12,682, Key Biscayne is the 153rd largest city in Florida and the 2612th largest city in the United States. “Key Biscayne is currently declining at a rate of -0.64% annually but its population has increased by 2.74% since the most recent census, in 2010.”(8.) The population of Key Biscayne is recorded to have reached its highest point in 2017 with a population of 12,996. As Key Biscayne is also not very large,  it has a population density of 10,168 people per square mile. (8)

The population of Key Biscayne has a median age of 42, 3.9% under 5 years old, 28.0% percent under 18 years old, and 16.8% 65 years and over. Additionally, 52.1% of the population is recorded as female, while the other 47.91% being labeled as male, with an interesting status of 50.6% of the population being foreign-born.  (8 and 11).

There is a median household income of $133,958, but the average household income is $226,086, with a poverty rate of 4.90% (8)

Lastly, according to the most recent ACS, the racial composition of Key Biscayne was: White: 96.63%, Two or more races: 1.46%, Other race: 1.39%, Asian: 0.29%, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.18%, Black or African American: 0.05%,  and Native American: 0.00% (11).

“Resident” Interview:

I had a hard time finding any actual residents, as a vast majority of the people on Key Biscayne are tourists and are visiting, however, I did find someone who lives in Miami and visits the parks often. 

Brendan Hampton:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

He is a 24-year-old college student at the University of Miami, who lives in Coral Gables, but says he often ventures to Key Biscayne, at least twice a month, primarily to fish.

What do you like about Key Biscayne?

  • “Mostly the Parks, both Crandon and Bill Baggs have a lot of nice locations to relax and chill with friends.”

How is it being able to be here on Key Biscayne fairly often?

  • “It’s actually really enjoyable, especially in the seasons when there are a lot less tourists, because you have more space to yourself.”

What do you like to do when you visit?

  • “Uh, I like to go fishing a lot, so mainly that, but a lot of time I kayak, swim and go to the beach with friends as well”

What is your favorite part of Key Biscayne? What makes you like it?

  • “Definitely all the good fishing spots, that where I’ll be headed now. I used to go a lot with my dad when I was younger, so I like to go to those same spots. And that’s where all the good fish are too!”


Cape Florida Lighthouse:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)


The other Two Main Landmarks are the two parks, which will be discussed in the next section. 


The main attraction of Key Biscayne is the parks and beaches on the island. The beaches are the reason that there are so many tourists and resorts located on the island, as thousands of people visit every day. 

The two main parks are Crandon Park, located on the northern side of the island, and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park located on the southern part of the island. The parks take up more of the island than the residential areas and are the main source of tourism.  There are also several smaller parks throughout the island such as the Village Green Park, Calusa Park, etc. 

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Cape Florida State Park is about the southern third of  Key Biscayne and is named after Bill Baggs, the editor of The Miami News from 1957 until 1969, as he had worked to protect the land from development and to preserve some of the keys in its natural state. It is ranked as having one of the top 10 beaches in the country and also contained the Cape Florida lighthouse (1.)

But as aforementioned, this area has a very important past, as it was an integral part of the underground railroad to freedom, as it was one of the main locations that hundreds of escaped slaves, the Black Seminoles, and many others escaped to freedom in the Bahamas (2). 

Current Day this park has more than a mile of beachfront, with many areas for snorkeling and swimming. There are many activities available in the park, including the beach,  picnicking, boating, kayaking, fishing, canoeing, bicycling, exploration, and hiking, and even a visitor center, museum, and tours of the Cape Florida lighthouse.

Crandon Park:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

The Second large park on Key Biscayne is Crandon Park: Crandon Park is an 808-acre urban park located in the northern part of Key Biscayne, connected to mainland Miami by the Rickenbacker Causeway (4).

The land that is now Crandon Park used to be part of the biggest coconut plantation in the country, ran by William Matheson. However, in 1940 the Matheson family donated 808.8 acres of their land to Dade County for a public park, in exchange the Causeway was built, to connect Miami to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne (6).

It has over 2 miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean, with a variety of available facilities, including a couple of different marinas, a tennis center, a golf course, picnic areas, a nature center, and a lot of other various activity areas.  Additionally, on the northern part of the park, there is the Biscayne Nature, also known as The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center (5.) The Nature Center has a range of natural history exhibits, in collaboration with a nonprofit project of Miami-Dade County Public School, has several unique learning areas and classrooms. Crandon also has many beautiful areas to go swimming, snorkeling, kayaking/canoeing, fishing, hiking, and more.

Village Green Park:

This park unlike the two others is one of the many smaller community parks on Key Biscayne. This Village Green Park is located near the center of the town and is a grassy community park with a playground, soccer fields,  interactive fountain, and a community center with a pool.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)


As all different neighborhoods, there is a fairly large variety of modes of transportation that the people in Key Biscayne use to get around. The main mode of transportation, similar to most areas in the United States are automobiles: cars, trucks, etc. However, being a smaller town and because a high percentage of the people there are tourists, there is more variety of transportation than most areas. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

As far public transportation there are a few buses that run throughout the island, and even a couple that runs across the Rickenbacker Causeway back to Miami. Though these buses were fairly uncommon and I only saw one in particular while spending the day there. Also, there are a lot of smaller modes of transportation, more particularly golf carts, and other smaller mass vehicles similar to those. They are often used by a lot of the residents of the resorts, and there are even designated golf cart parking in a lot of areas because of how common it is to see them. 

When it comes to personal transportation, most people were observed to be walking, but there are a fair amount of people, riding bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, etc. The most common by far were bicycles, and almost every road in Key Biscayne had bike lanes. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)


There are quite a few different locations n to eat on Key Biscayne, especially because it is a popular tourist destination. However, I have taken pictures and will highlight some of the more well-known restaurants in the areas as well as some smaller restaurants. 

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Milanezza: Milanezza Kitchen Bar Market – Key Biscayne

Milanezza Offers creative Argentinian and Italian dishes as it is has a casual dining full-service restaurant & bar with an original concept offering a wide international menu with the signature dish being a chicken, fish, or beef Milanezza.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)


Piononos is a small bakeshop known for its pavlova, that offers a range of gourmet cakes, pastries, and other treats.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

La Boulangerie Boul’Mich Key Biscayne:

La Boulangerie Boul’Mich is a french bakery with a Hispanic twist standby featuring a variety of bread & pastries plus breakfast and more.


There are many different small and large businesses throughout the town of Key Biscayne, with one the more obvious ones being the large number of resorts that many tourists stay in, but those resorts, bring a lot of business to the other smaller businesses. 

Harbor Plaza Farmers Market

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

This small farmers market was probably my favorite to find and was one of the few places I could go inside. It had a variety of fresh produce, as well as a deli and a bakery. 

Various Resorts:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

With tourism being the main part of the economy, there were 5 different massive resorts on Key Biscayne and were a source of many of the people I encountered on Key Biscayne. This is just one of the many that are located on the island and are part of the reason the actual population of the town is so low because most people who are here are just visiting. 

Public Library:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

This was one of the most interesting places I found on Key Biscayne. An unusually shaped building sat between different resorts, but across the street from a shopping center. The coolest part was that there were small peaceful nature areas connected to the library, where I assume people could go to read the book. It was at this area I probably saw the most wildlife in one sport with over 20 different lizards, and birds, as well as many insects, all in this one area. 


In summary, Key Biscayne is a barrier island offshore of Miami with a long complicated past, a popular tourist location, with several large natural parks, miles of oceanfront beaches, a smaller yet substantial residential area, that is becoming more and more commercialized. 

Overall it is still a wonderful place to visit. It has beautiful beaches and plenty of engaging activities. I have many memories growing up as a kid visiting Bill Baggs State Park, and the Beach, along with the Cape Florida Lighthouse. I hope to visit again soon, as I had not been since before the pandemic. It is a little sad to see more and more large scale resorts coming into play, however, I imagine this also helps bring costumes to local businesses, and as long as the Natural Parks are not somehow hurt or diminished, the commercialization that has occurred is ok to continue to grow. Also most of the actual residents there are extremely wealthy and it seems like it could be an interesting place to live, however, the extreme lack of diversity within the residents in the area, seems to be unusual and somewhat of an issue. But I hope that the parks continue to receive many visitors and that the current preservation of the natural landscape continues to be protected. 


  1. “Barrier Islands at Cape Florida.” Florida State Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection,
  2. “Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.” Florida State Parks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection,
  3. “Cape Florida Light.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2021,
  4. “Crandon Park Beach in Key Biscayne, FL.”, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. ,
  5. “Crandon Park.” CRANDON PARK, Miami-Dade County,
  6. “Crandon Park.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2020,
  7. “History of the Island of Key Biscayne.” History of the Island of Key Biscayne – Village of Key Biscayne, Village Key of Biscayne,
  8. “Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021.” Key Biscayne, Florida Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs), World Population Review,
  9. “Key Biscayne, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Mar. 2021,,_Florida.
  10. “Key Biscayne.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Jan. 2021,
  11. “QuickFacts Key Biscayne Village, Florida.” United States Census Bureau,,
  12.  “Tequesta.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Mar. 2021, 

Adrian Mills: Miami as Text 2021


Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Hello! I am Adrian Mills. I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it.  I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer.  My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from  sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for  exploring new experiences.

Downtown Miami as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Origins”  by Adrian Mills of FIU in Downtown Miami

All cities throughout the world have their own distinct culture, history, qualities, flaws, and in their own way are unique. Miami is certainly one with all of these characteristics. 

Downtown Miami is often seen as this diverse tropical city full of towering buildings, with beautiful beaches, plentiful palm trees, and exciting nightlife. While this may be true in some sense, Miami at its core, is so much more than just that. While the history of Miami is complex, and honestly not really that widely known, it gives a different perspective into the city that so many various people have called home. 

Not initially being from Miami, brings another interesting perspective on exploration of what Miami has to offer and the background of its complicated history. Miami is well known to be a mixing pot of many various cultures, peoples, and takes pride in its diversity. 

This diversity is a fundamental part of Miami’s identity.

While this is the case currently, it also traces its roots back to its foundations as a city and even before that. But there are some parts that aren’t as widely known. Mainly the events that occurred early on in the beginning of its history. 

Thousands of years even before the Europeans arrived, much of the greater Miami Dade County area was inhabited by natives, the earliest of which date back to more than 10,000 years ago. 

By the time The Europeans visited around the middle of the 16th century, this group of people eventually died off and disappeared due to European introduced diseases, and conflicts. 

Later in History, many of the newer inhabitants of the Miami area, were escaped slaves and the Seminole Native Americans who were forced to the Southern parts of Florida. Eventually they were once again forced out of their homes, as the Second Seminole War took place,  the most devastating war in Native American history, which practically completely killed the entire population of Seminoles. This also  involved Fort Dallas, a former plantation slave quarters, which still exists in Miami today. Much of this history is not taught or explained, at first I thought it might be as I did not grow up around here, but what I quickly realized, that many people who grew up here were not taught of the terrible events that had taken place. 

Furthermore, another widely unknown part of Miami history, are a group of people who much of  their history is gone and forgotten, are the original people of Miami, the people who first called Miami, and all its natural beauty, their home, the Tequesta.

The Tequesta were a native american people that lived throughout most of the Southeastern parts of Florida, mainly Biscayne Bay, much of what is now Miami Dade County, to the Florida Keys,  from 3rd century BCE to the  mid-18th century. What little is known about the Tequesta includes that they hunted, fished, and gathered various parts of plants, but had not developed or practiced any agriculture. This unique group of people had their own developed language, way of life, and had lived that way for hundreds of years before being disrupted by the European settlements. They did make contact with the Europeans as mentioned earlier but the Tequesta and their descendants met the similar fate as most other Natives throughout the Americas. 

However, something that genuinely surprised me was the lack of recognition that Miami had for its original inhabitants, the Tequesta.  What was most surprising to me, no one knows a lot about the Tequesta, what they looked like, how they spoke, or how they lived. How had an entire group of people who lived in this prominent area for thousands of years, exist, and vanish, with not much mentioned, or known? A single plaque at the entrance of a church in downtown Miami, was the only true mention I had ever seen throughout all of Miami. I have only heard of the Tequesta a few times before, and it amazed me that despite this being Miami’s original people, they receive almost no recognition, and so little is really known about them. 

Diversity is a key part of Miami, and it can still be seen today, with its mixing of cultures, wonderful foods,  interesting architecture, and various languages, all of which are constant reminders of Miami’s true potential. But the underlying existence of its true history and darker past, should be more widely recognized within its foundations.

The Tequesta are a fascinating part of Miami’s history and it is truly a shame that more people don’t know about them, and that such little of their intriguing existence remains. 

Learning more about the history of Miami while exploring the actual areas, was quite an interesting and extremely enjoyable experience. Being introduced to new information about the past of such a diverse historical city is truly an experience that more people should enjoy.

Everglades as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Natural World” by Adrian Mills of FIU in the Everglades

The Everglades have always been one of my favorite locations to visit whenever I travelled to South Florida, ever since I was a kid. I grew up visiting many different natural parks and reserves, and often they were the highlight of any road trip or vacation. This was particularly evident with the Everglades, as I visited any time I could. 

Being able to wade through the Everglades, exploring the cypress dome, the alligator hole and beyond, was a really enjoyable experience, that although I have done before, is always an adventure. There are always new things to learn, explore, and see. The Everglades are an incredible display of the complex relationship between nature and humans. But, there is something truly alluring about the expansive wetland, the interconnectedness of the various different types of ecosystems, and the abundance of biological diversity, both plants and animals, that each play a key role in the existence of their ecosystem. 

The Everglades, as most ecosystems do all have a certain balance, but there is an extent to which it exists.  This is evident in certain areas, as because as usual, humans have started a long list of various detrimental effects that have influenced the Natural Everglades habitat. Anything from the introduction of invasive species, to the clearing of land, to the pollution of the water with agricultural  runoff, or the ever growing accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and the global climate crisis,  the list goes on and on. 

But, Nature, as it always does, adapts and overcomes challenges to survive, and more notably it always returns. At least, it does to some extent, but in many cases today, it needs our help to recover more quickly and effectively. This is what we, as a group were able to observe in person. One of the more interesting sections of the day involved going to  land that had essentially been completely cleared and scraped down until only the coral remained. What initially seemed like the destruction of habitat, was actually an intricate part of a complex habitat restoration project that took over a decade in development.

This area is what is known as the Hole in the Donut Restoration Project. Restoration Projects are extremely important, as they allow us to restore the damage we have done on certain ecosystems, and when done on such as scale, it provide an incredible amount of data and information that can be used to better understand the restoration process and how it influences the surrounding ecosystems, making future project more effective. 

This land, over 6,300 acres was previously cleared and used as agricultural land years ago, but as there is not much soil naturally, the farmers brought a large amount of nutrient rich soil to grow on. But, after the Everglades was deemed a National Park and  the farm had to move they farmers left, leaving all the unnatural soil they had brought. Initially this might not seem like a large problem however, it has caused a series of lasting issues within this part of the Everglades.

This abundance of excess nutrients provided by the old farmland completely disrupts the normal ecosystem that used to exist in this land. This surplus of unnatural nutrients which resulted in an explosive growth of  many invasive species of plants. Over time, this unnatural area started to influence the surrounding area and cause more problems.  These invasive species start to spread, having no natural predators, and start to get out of control. 

But the National Park Service, in cooperation with a number of other organizations, were able to develop, plan, experiment, and ultimately complete a large scale restoration of this area. This restoration involved the removal of exotic plants, and the restoration of the natural wetland ecosystem, with the integration of monitoring and management. This process takes a substantial amount of time and as of 2020, over 6000 acres has been restored with less that 250 more to go. This project began in 1988 and over the past 30 years this project has been immensely successful. 

We were able to observe this progress in one of the areas that had most recently been cleared, as we visited several of the natural solution holes within the coral that had been revealed during  the process of removing the surface level of invasive plants and soil. In these areas it is interesting to observe the distinct reclamation that nature has on any part disrupted by humans. This area  started to see many of the native plants, such as sawgrass,  and other species return fairly quickly to reestablished themselves on the land. Seeing this in person allows for the better understanding of the interaction between ecosystems, and how important it is to protect  and restore the ecosystem that we still have left. 

Everything that we did that day, wading through the cypress dome, the flatter grass areas, walking along the boardwalk, and swimming in the solution holes, really allowed us to experience the natural side of Miami, as this is what the true native land of Miami would have looked like. It is interesting that most people think of the beaches and city of Miami whereas what truly is the area of Miami and most of South Florida and the vast expanse of Everglades, that continue to display their importance on the existence of this entire Floridian peninsula. 

Observing these natural landscapes, and seeing the important restoration of the extensive damage we have caused is extremely important. Being able to appreciate these areas and understand their importance is something that a lot more people should do, as maybe it will be one of many steps that will truly help humanity to finally put aside their differences and finally address and find easy to resolve and prevent  the many ways that we as a people have negatively affected the natural world we live in. 

South Beach as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Iconic” by Adrian Mills of FIU at South Beach

South Beach and Ocean Drive are two of the most iconic areas in Miami. From the art deco buildings, the neon lights, to the warm sand and the busy beaches, this is what most people think of when they hear the name of one of the most famous cities in the United States. 

South Beach offers many of the highlights of Miami, from the sunny beach with arrays of palm trees, the clear blue water, to the restaurants, the busy nightlife, the outdoor mall, to the peaceful walk of South Point Pier. It is a unique place, with varying architectural styles, expensive cars, smaller neighborhoods, and is always busy, with many people, tourists, residents, and more, all enjoying what it has to offer. 

One of the first things that comes to mind when anyone mentions Miami is the beach, and the most famous and popular one being South Beach. South beach is the southernmost part of Miami Beach, located between Biscayne Bay at the Atlantic Ocean. Looking across the beach one might observe the bright sunlight, the palm trees, and the clear blue sky that meets the deep blue of the ocean at the horizon, where the waves wash up on the warm sand, and the many people enjoying their time in the sun. 

Ocean drive is by far Miami Beach’s most iconic street. The brilliant night lights, the pastel colored art deco buildings, expensive cars, crowded streets, plentiful palm trees, and  bright sunlight, is all what makes Ocean Drive a quintessential part of Miami. 

One of the interesting and distinctive parts of South Beach is the architecture.  It is an interesting mix, with no real true pattern, with varying styles from building to building, including the prominent and iconic art deco style, the newer Miami Modern or MiMo style, to the more traditional mediterranean revival. All of which are truly representative of what is thought to be Miami. 

However South Beach also has a distinct history, and plays a crucial part of Miami’s history as it not only the tourism industry but also what makes  it a core part of Miami’s culture. South Beach began around 1870 when  Henry Lum  bought the land with the idea to turn the sandbar and mangrove ridge into a coconut farm. But after the failure of the coconut farm, the land was bought by John S. Collins had some success growing crops and started the construction of a  bridge to connect the island to the mainland.  But eventually, a town formed,  and around 1915 Collins partnered with Carl Fisher and the Lummus brothers to turn the area into the beach it is known as today.  Throughout the entirety of Miami beach, laborers  slowly cleared the natural mangroves that grew on the barrier island as well as deepened the channels of water surrounding the beach. Since then this artificial beach has had to be continuously maintained and sand dredged and moved there as it is not a naturally occurring beach. In 1920 the land boom around Miami Beach started, and more and more was being built on this now hospitable land, the creation of the main roads further facilitated the growth of Miami Beach, with many millionaires now building houses on the land. In the 1930’s the architectural revolution arrived at South beach bringing with it the iconic Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne styles. Over time as more and more people moved there, it slowly became more and more of a tourist attraction, attracting millions of people a year. Media contributed greatly to the growing popularity, with the Jackie Gleason show coming to the area in 1964, famous movies such as Scarface in 1983 , and the addition of the Miami Vice show, all further increased Miami Beach and South Beach’s iconic reputation. Today it is one of the most wealthy and prosperous areas in all of the United States, attracting over 15 million visitors a year.

Deering Estate as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Preservation” by Adrian Mills of FIU at Deering Estate

Preservation of an area’s natural habitat is one of the most important concepts that exists in today’s natural world.So much of the world, essentially all of it has been touched or altered by humanity in some way, with an extremely vast majority being detrimental. 

However, every once in a while an area has been preserved, untouched by most aspects of humanity. These pristine locations illustrate what locations were actually like when nature remained untouched, and show the complex systems of ecology, and how the natural ecosystems interact. 

Focusing on South Florida, Miami has undergone so many different changes over time, and people have altered its natural environment in almost every way. Almost all of its Coast has been cleared of the natural mangrove forests, land was cleared and drained in order to make it suitable for large numbers of people to live there. However, this has resulted in essentially all of native Florida to be destroyed and changed. All except  few reserves and nature parks have maintained what South Florida was like at this time. These few areas are vital in understanding what the original areas looked like and how it has changed over time even with minimal human involvement. One of these such areas within South Florida is the Deering Estate. 

The Deering Estate has some interesting history, throughout the years, as well as before its ownership.  As  it was at this location that many different people throughout history have visited. One of the main reasons for it traffic belonged to it being one of the few natural freshwater springs, so travelers, ships, and people from all around, would venture here to get water before voyages, and travels. It was also home to the Richmond Cottage, built in 1900, that gained a fair amount of traffic. Charles Deering howe,  purchased 444 acres of land and lived there from 1922 to 1927.  In addition to the Richmond Cottage, the estate was home to the Stone House, a Spanish villa inspired building, designed by Phineas Paist and was built in 1922. Besides these buildings, a majority of the land remained in its natural state, aside form some acres used as an avocado grove. These acres of land that remained uninterrupted are what makes the Deering Estate so important, even today. 

In addition to many other ecosystems, The Deering Estate, most notably includes what is believed to be the largest untouched coastal tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States. This pristine mangrove forest is seen to be in its natural state and demonstrated what almost all of south florida’s coasts would have looked like hundreds of years ago. 

Furthermore, there are also over 6 different ecosystems, just within the boundary of the estate. From the aforementioned  thick mangrove forest, the sunny ocean coast, the hardwood forest, to the more arid pine forest, as well as several others. This is partially due to the fairly large natural elevation changes that allow for each unique part to form and coexist. These dramatically contrasting environments are fascinating, and the natural pine rockland is actually what a lot of Florida’s inland areas were like before people lived there. 

The true untouched nature of Florida, or what little of exists, is honestly amazing, as the diversity of the ecosystems, and the overall unique combination of habitats, is home to more than 170 resident and migrant species of birds, 89 endangered/threatened plant species, and much much more. 

Conservation is critically important, as effectively managed conservation areas are an imperative part of protecting biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem balance, preserving important habitats, as well as providing many other benefits to wildlife and human health.

Vizcaya as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Influence” by Adrian Mills of FIU at Deering Estate

Despite spending some time in Miami, I had never visited The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Between its interesting history, extravagant decorations and furnishings from all over the world, to its extensive gardens it is certainly a place worth visiting. 

But in order to understand Vizcaya, one must look at its creator, James Deering. James Deering was a socialite and an antiquities collector who gained his wealth by being an executive in the management of his family’s Deering Harvester Company.

James Deering had built the Villa Vizcaya in around 1920 and with it was able to create the opulent display that is present today with the help of his visionary designer Paul Chalfin. Paul Chalfin and James Deering traveled throughout Europe many times together in order to collect ideas and start buying art, and furnishings for the new Florida estate.

What resulted is a unique combination of Mediterranean Revival architecture inspired by the Italian Renaissance, with elements from all over Europe, Asia, and even the Americas. What is even more impressive than the building was the huge collection of art and antiquities that span over two millennia, with sculpture ranging from Greek, Greco-Roman, and the Italian renaissance. This amounts to one of the most interesting estates in the world, with a mixture of so many different styles, art, and architecture. 

The long road down to the villa, with the open-air center, the intricate details of the pillars and victory arches,  the elaborately carved barge, or stone breakwater, or the seemingly endless gardens filled with statues, even the exterior of the villa and the estate is obviously affluent. But it is remarkably well hidden from the inland, as there’s a winding road through a thick junglelike forest, before revealing this strangely out of place, luxurious estate. 

All of this was possible only thanks to how ridiculously wealthy James Deering was. Much of what he had was transported directly from Europe, an entire ceiling in one room, a whole fountain in the gardens, and much of all the artwork and decor. And the fact that he mainly used this house for parties, demonstrates even more so how James Deering lived. 

But what is interesting is the influence that this held. 

Unknowingly, Jame Deering and this extremely diverse party house essentially is a pretty accurate representation of what Miami has become and well known for. 

Miami is such a diverse mixture of many different cultures, as well as bring in tourists from all over the world, and even more so the main culture that Miami is known for is the rich nightlife and extravagant parties. 

It is very interesting to observe how even a hundred years ago, the beginning of the core foundation of Miami, was present in areas such as Vizcaya and with James Deering himself.

Margulies as Text

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Exposition” by Adrian Mills of FIU at The Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE

Exploring various art museums and galleries is something that I have come to enjoy. Whether it be older more classical art or the newer contemporary art collections, there is always something fascinating about the artist’s ability to express themselves, and the variance of observers’ interpretations. 

However, recently I have not been able to go to any collections, and this Margulies collection, being our last class together seemed to be a really interesting spot, especially as I had no idea of its existence, despite visiting and exploring Wynwood on several occasions. Something that accurately expresses true appreciation of art and the artwork within the Margulies collection is that this collection is a nonprofit that gives all its proceeds to other nonprofit organizations design to help those in need. Even more so, none of the art within this collection is for sale, and Martin Z. Margulies has put together this collection for others to appreciate. In addition, it is free to most college students, allowing easy access to observe and reflect on a lot of these unique pieces of art. 

Art, in and of itself, is often misunderstood, observed as being very complex and intricate, but in reality, I think it is something that is more simplistic in nature. Just beyond the horizon of pure observation, and the natural instinctive responses is the true inspiration and exposition of art. Art is meant to be something that the artist is able to express but also that each individual can have their own unique interpretation of what it is that they perceive to be. 

It is extremely important to preserve art, that is meant to be preserved, as some are meant to exist only for so long. It is important that art is accessible to everyone, and that it is not something merely confined to those individuals with more money than they know what to do with.

Walking through the collection at the warehouse brought about an interesting sense of calm, and also a unique sense of emptiness. This emptiness that at first seems to be apparent throughout the warehouse, as it is truly a warehouse, with more empty space than full. But this is part of what makes this experience so different than other art museums or collections I had been lucky enough to see. The abstract nature of many of the art pieces, and also some of the  very notable names of artists whose art is on display, such as Anselm Kiefer and George Segal, create an interesting atmosphere as to find so many pieces by artists such as these, all in one place, is something that is extremely rare, especially with the entrance being free to most college students. 

Some of the art here reminds of my experience at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid, as it had a large collection of contemporary art, that I was able to experience with two of my friends while traveling through Spain. I specifically, remember I was supposed to meet with a member of my family who live in Madrid to tour this Museum, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to meet and had to explore it ourselves. But this experience as well as going to many of the other art museums throughout some of the cities of Spain is what this collection reminded me the most of for some unknown reason. 

The experience of observing various art pieces, especially contemporary with a group of students my age is an unforgettable experience. I am lucky enough to now know of the Margulies Collection, and as the collection changes several times a year, I highly expect to visit again in the future. 

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