Registered: December 2016
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Apprentice Ecologist Initiative
My name is Andro Bailly and I attend Terra Environmental Research Institute, a high school in Miami. I am a junior, in the Environmental Studies magnet program. I love my school because it greatly stresses the protection and preservation of nature, and teaches us to be responsible environmental stewards. I completed an Apprentice Ecologist Initiative because I saw it is an opportunity to continue to make a positive difference in my community.
This project took place at the Deering Estate which is located on the Biscayne Bay in Miami. I know and love this land and sea because, for six weeks during the summer 2016, I was a Junior Naturalist at the Deering Estate. I volunteered from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM, five days a week, helping children learn about and experience South Florida nature. Every day I was in the mangrove nature preserve and in the ocean, teaching my group about the importance of the environment.
It is important to clean the area where we worked because it is a home to many animals and it is also the first thing that tourists see when they visit Deering Estate. I always picked up trash and helped beach clean-ups. But whenever I went swimming, I also saw a lot of trash underwater, and we never cleaned that. This made me sad, because it is especially known that manatees live around that area. Other common species are birds, fish, American Crocodiles, Nurse Sharks, and stingrays. To think that our trash was destroying their habitat bothered me.
For this Apprentice Ecologist Initiative, I worked with the Deering Estate to organize an underwater environmental snorkeling cleanup. My volunteers and I worked in the water and on small mangrove islands. We left shore with canoes to a mangrove island that is especially rich with life. We took turns in the canoe and in the water. The people in the canoe followed the swimmers, who brought up trash from the ocean floor into the canoe. We also left some people on the island to get trash from there. In one day, we managed work to clear an area of car tires, hundreds of yards of rope, plastics, fishing line, glass bottles, and a lot metal cans.
The snorkeling cleanup was an overwhelming success. It benefits the community because garbage in the ocean is a real problem. Not only does pollution destroy water quality, the objects also directly kill animals and plants. While I was cleaning, I found dead fish inside of cans and mangroves being strangled by fences and ropes. The mangroves provide a breeding ground and refuge for so many species, such as pelicans, osprey, parrot fish, barracudas, crocodiles, horseshoe crabs, egrets and so many more. If the mangroves are covered in trash, the plants can die or the animals cannot get into them. It felt great to restore the habitat so many of the animals I love need.
Another part of the project that was successful is that we inspired people to help us in the future. People were cheering us from the shore and so many people have asked to help next time after seeing pictures on social media. Hopefully, we can also just raise awareness to the negative environmental impacts of littering and pollution. If we do not begin to clean the ocean and mangroves now, then they will be permanently damaged.
When you are a couple feet away and looking at a patch of beautiful ocean and mangroves the thought of them being covered with trash does not occur to you. In the mangroves and under the stillness of the ocean is hidden trash. I was swimming on the ocean floor and I could not swim 10 feet without finding a can, bottle, or even an engine part on the floor. Seeing this has inspired me to do more for my community because it is unacceptable and if people like me will not do it then who will?
This project has showed me how easy it is to gather a group of people that will help and that has given me the idea of doing something like this every month. In the future, I am planning to take it to the next level. I have already arranged with the Deering Estate to do another Snorkeling Environmental Cleanup and to lay the ground work for it to be official recurring program. There are plenty of high schoolers that are ready to make a difference while earning community service hours.
As our cleanup was finishing for the day, I went down to grab one more piece of trash I had seen. As I swam back up, I saw something large move in the water. That is always a tense situation. But it was a moment I will not forget. It was a Manatee and her calf. They were right next to me. I was so happy because they reminded me of why I love nature and why we need to care for it. We will meet up and clean up and slowly but surely we will better our environment.