Liza Guanch is an Honors College student and Psychology major at Florida International University who is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Her long-term goal is to study forensic/legal psychology and find a career in a government agency, preferably the FBI. In her free time, Liza enjoys being out in nature and learning about her environment.
I volunteered at Deering Estate and Bill Baggs State Park in Miami, Florida. Both volunteer excursions were led by Professor John William Bailly of FIU in the Miami in Miami class. In Bill Baggs State Park, we were also led by Ranger Shane Zigler. Bill Baggs State Park is a Florida state park that protects South Florida’s natural environment, is home to Cape Florida Lighthouse, and is a tourist destination for beautiful, sandy beaches and other outdoor activities. While the original plan was to venture out to Chicken Key, the winds weren’t in our favor, so we came up with the alternative plan of cleaning up the mangroves on the estate.
While the main reason for completing these volunteer excursions was because it was a part of the Miami in Miami syllabus, there are multiple other reasons. Ever since I was young, I would take part in protecting the environment in any way that I could. I was a Girl Scout for 7 years which allowed me to do a lot of volunteer work that would benefit nature such as beach cleanups with Baynanza, recycling activities, or even something as simple as cleaning up a garden. I noticed that out of all of those, I would continue to gravitate towards beach cleanups or anything revolving the ocean because of how important the ocean is to me. I have always had a deep love for the ocean and what lives in it, so being able to clean up some of the damage that humans are doing to it means a great deal.
These activities do not directly relate to my major, as I am a psychology major, but they do relate to my interests. Along with my love for the ocean, I also have a love for Marine Biology. I considered going down the Marine Biology track in college, but I preferred to keep it as a hobby, so I could have some more room to explore my other interests like legal psychology. Marine Biology is extremely interesting to me, and the mangrove cleanup made me feel like I was making an impact and helping the lives of marine animals, including dolphins which happen to be my favorite animal of all-time.
For the Bill Baggs State Park excursion, we were told to meet at the Cape Florida Lighthouse where we were met with our mission. It was a beautiful day to be outside with blue skies and a bright sun that shined consistently throughout the day. Upon first glance of the lighthouse, I was in awe, I had seen it before as a child, but learning about the history and how it is the one of the oldest standing structures remaining in Miami Dade County made the view all that more breathtaking. This is the second semester of the Miami in Miami class, but this excursion seemed to bring the class together. Along with connecting the class, I was able to connect with Ranger Shane Zigler and learn about his history, his current responsibilities, and more on his outlook of the park and the world.
This trip to the Deering Estate is the third we have made in this class, but each time is completely different. If we had stuck to the original plan, we would have needed to get to Chicken Key by canoes, but because of the weather conditions and luckily for our muscles, we only had to walk a short distance to get to the mangroves. The first sight that is seen is a blocked off entrance to the old Deering Estate mangrove path which creates a level of mystery and anticipation of what’s to come.
WHEre & what
The Bill Baggs State Park Cleanup took place on April 6th, 2022. We met at the Cape Florida Lighthouse and were told that we were on landscaping duty. The project was to carry several bags of mulch, using gloves, and then lay the mulch all along the sides of the pathway that lead up to the lighthouse. Despite it being April, the Florida sun is no match, and we were instantly breaking a sweat. I was able to work alongside classmates that I had not spoken to much and bonded with them over the task at hand and learned a little bit about their backgrounds which proved to me how doing something good can bring people together. Laying the mulch and making it look as visually appealing as possible took around 2 hours. Once we finished, we stopped and looked at all that we had done and were amazed at the results. It looked stunning. The feeling of accomplishment that came over me when I was able to see the difference, I had made just in two hours was indescribable.
The Mangrove Cleanup took place on April 20th, 2022. This was another April event, so it while it wasn’t as hot as it could be in Miami, it was still enough to sweat instantly, especially with the work we were doing. We met at the Deering Estate and prepared ourselves for the day by putting on mosquito repellent, sunscreen, putting on water shoes, if we had, and gathering the trash bags. Before we started to clean, we learned that there used to a be a path through the mangroves that was about 1 mile long and would lead out to Cutler Creek, but it was destroyed during Hurricane Irma. The mangrove habitat seemed a bit overgrown and while we did find plenty of trash including a metal bucket, some illegal lobster trap materials, and plenty of other litter, we also encountered plenty of spiders and even saw a couple snakes. It was very much an immersion into nature, but that made it all the more rewarding to clean up.
Overall, both days were a success. I would not have had it any other way. The way I see it, we were able to make an impact and assist in the beautification of our natural world. It is easy to say that what didn’t work on the Deering Estate cleanup day was the weather which preventing us from going to Chicken Key, but it led us to clean another area that needed just as much care and attention. The best part of both excursions was being able to see our results, however I wish we had more time to spend in the mangroves. There is so much to be done there and hopefully one day, that won’t be the case, but until then, the little that we did do went a long way. The only thing left to say is, keep our world beautiful. It provides for us, so let us keep it healthy and thriving. It is the least we can do.