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We need to talk. I’ve been cleaning up your mess for a while, and it’s only getting worse. More specifically, I removed 7,500 pounds (almost four tons) of trash from Bear Cut Preserve over 16 months. I even carried 30 pounds of it the length of the Miami Marathon to raise awareness of this issue. But it’s time we had a heart to heart.
Bear Cut is a gorgeous, 20-square-acre natural park composed of red mangrove swamps, tidal pools, and subtropical forest on the north end of Key Biscayne. It serves as a haven for thousands of birds, sea turtles, fish, and arthropods—key species for the health of our local environment. But if you thought such an important habitat would be pristine, you’d be terribly wrong. It is a landfill. Before I started my work, you could not plant a foot in the preserve without stepping on a piece of trash.
Most of this waste originates in Miami. It is swept down storm drains, dropped from passing boats, or left by careless beachgoers. There are many individuals and organizations across South Florida fighting to keep our coastlines clean, but we’re losing the battle. Regardless of how many times I clear a stretch of mangroves, the next high tide inevitably deposits more plastic.
You might feel detached from this problem. After all, most Miamians never set foot in a mangrove forest. However, if you enjoy locally sourced seafood or the benefits of Miami’s tourism economy, there is no escaping marine trash.
When plastic falls in the ocean and is exposed to ultraviolet rays, it degenerates into progressively smaller pieces. This microplastic is ingested by animals at the bottom of the food chain. Larger predators eat smaller prey until the apex hunters accumulate the highest concentrations of toxins. Unfortunately, these tuna, swordfish, and grouper are also some of humanity’s favorite dinners.
Moreover, millions of tourists come to Miami every year to fish, snorkel, dive, kayak, and boat in our waters. Plummeting stocks of oceanic wildlife mean fewer tourists, which equates to the collapse of our local economy.
Unfortunately, a roadblock to more structured action is the Florida state legislature. It is technically illegal for municipal governments to institute plastic or Styrofoam bans. A few laudable cities such as Coral Gables have implemented them regardless of such state overreach. Miamians need to pressure their state representatives to back proposals allowing local governments to protect their own environments. Tallahassee might be landlocked, but we depend on our coast.
This may seem like an insurmountable problem, but the solution is relatively simple. It begins and ends with you. There are myriad ways to reduce plastic pollution in a meaningful manner:
- Call or email your state legislator to push for repeal of Florida’s prohibition of municipal plastic bans.
- Bring a backpack to the grocery store.
- Pick up trash you see around your neighborhood, work, or school, even if you didn’t leave it there.
- Don’t place your fruits and vegetables in individual bags.
- Tell bartenders to prepare your drinks sans straws.
- Ask local businesses to switch to compostable containers, cups, and utensils.
- Students and parents can advocate for the same at school cafeterias.
- Donate to Miami Waterkeeper to preserve South Florida’s waters
Eschewing the use of a single plastic bag, straw, or fork might not seem like a sufficiently impactful service to the environment. But that piece of plastic could be swept into the ocean and kill a sea turtle, pelican, or dolphin. Your every action matters. Working collectively, Miamians can make a positive impact on the earth by simply changing our behavior.
I’m relatively young (a sprightly 32) and healthy, but amateur mangrove trash collecting doesn’t provide health insurance. Carrying 40-pound bags of trash kilometers through the mangroves sucks. Eventually, I’ll retire, either from injuries sustained, or preferably, because I age out. I have invested untold sweat and occasional blood into trying to make a dent in Miami’s oceanic plastic problem. I don’t want to see my work negated over the span of a few years. You, my fellow Miamians, are the only ones capable of ensuring that doesn’t happen. Your local wildlife, economy, and my chiropractor thank you.