Written by: Brittany Torres Rivera
On October 14, 2020, students enrolled in Professors John Bailly’s Miami in Miami course were able to conducte a cleanup at the Deering Estate, a staple activity in the seminar, for the first time in seven months. Among the usual marine debris, they found something new clogging the waterways of the island: masks.
Teaching assistant Nicole Patrick began organizing monthly cleanups last Fall, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and university closure in March, the class was unable to host a cleanup until now. When the group finally returned to the Deering Estate, they were surprised at the amount, and size, of the litter.
The group was finding “less and less trash,” Patrick remembers, referring to a time before the pandemic caused volunteers to take a break from trash cleanups. That changed when the new Miami in Miami class visited in October.
“We definitely were finding a lot more big things,” said Nicole, who found a discarded rainwater collection basin even before docking at the island. They collected plenty of other large pieces of debris, including plastic bags, fishing line, ribbon, and even shoes.
“There was a lot more now because it’s been so long since it’s been cleaned up.” There was also a new kind of marine debris: “We actually had seen masks on the shore,” Nicole said, reflecting on the current state of the world. It is ironic that the very items that we use to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 could have such a negative impact on the environment.
The cleanup process has changed as well. Typically, the class would canoe to the Deering Estate, enjoy a picnic, swim, and collect the trash. However, with the pandemic still in full force, Nicole made sure that everyone maintained proper distance, wore their masks, and used hand sanitizer as necessary. Since the cleanup took place halfway through the semester, most students already knew the drill.
“All the students know that ‘you have to wear your mask every time you’re in class. You need to keep your distance.’ We always say ‘bring your hand sanitizer,’” Nicole said. “It’s a different world now that you always have to keep that in the back of your mind.”
The group was able to take care of the city, both by cleaning up the trash and by being considerate of public health. “It’s a fun way to really bond with people who have the same interest…[it’s] very rewarding.” At a time when it feels impossible to connect with people, the cleanup was a way to rejoin the community in a productive, positive way. “Your arms are sore, definitely, the next day, but it’s all worth it,” says Nicole.
Nicole, who has taken on the project separate from Professor Bailly’s class, hasn’t been able to host cleanups due to the pandemic. However, she encourages people to find their own way to get involved.
“Don’t wait for a cleanup… just go to your backyard or your nearest canal…everyone can do their part one way or another.”
Miami In Miami will be going virtual this Saturday, Nov. 21st at 10am as part of FIU Orientation’s Parent & Family Engagement Week! RSVP at go.fiu.edu/miamiinmiami