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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Key Largo, Florida, USA

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Key Largo, Florida, USA
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Registered: August 2018
City/Town/Province: SAINT PETERSBURG
Posts: 1
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This spring break I traveled to the Florida Keys with a group of 6 other students with the goal to clean up debris leftover from hurricane Irma. The trip was coordinated through my schools "Scubi Jew: Environmental Divers" club which is run by our campus Rabbi. Throughout the course of the week we completed multiple beach clean-ups, a kayak clean-up, dive for debris, and fish id surveys. The week was anything but the relaxing spring break I longed for and was a true test of both my mental and physical strength.
From the moment we arrived at the Keys Jewish Community Center (our home for the week) tensions within the group were already high. By the second day group moral was so low that instead of watching the movie we had planned for the night, we had a two hour long talk with each other, venting frustrations and about how we were going to make the week work. During this talk I learned a lot of things about myself. I have a lot of experience with these kinds of service trips, but I never knew how impactful they have been on my leadership skills until this trip started going bad. I have never considered myself to be the best leader, and during this talk I really surprised myself. I was able to remain calm and cool headed in a situation which normally would have made me incredibly uncomfortable. Scubi Jew has a new trip coordinator and this was her first trip she had planned and I feel like during the talk I was able to use my knowledge from previous service projects to help give her ideas about how to make this trip, and others after it, run more smoothly. While the talk we had didn't completely fix our moral issues, I believe that it was extremely necessary and the group tension was definitely lowered in the next few days.
The next day was probably my favorite day of the trip. We had a kayak clean-up planned. The goal of the day was to clean debris that was stuck in the mangroves from our kayaks. When we first got out into the water however, it seemed we were going to be off to a rocky start. At first glance there was no trash to be seen, but after further inspection, we noticed that most of it was stuck far back in the mangroves where we could not reach it from our kayaks. I felt extremely discouraged by this. Eventually, we moved downstream a little further and were able to start collecting trash. While most people spent their time hunting through the mangroves, I stayed out in the open water and searched the sargassum that floated on the surface for microplastics. I know from classes that sargassum is used as a nursery ground for many marine animals, so I felt as though it was my job to remove the manmade dangers in order to give them the best chance at survival. While I certainly removed hundreds of microplastics from the water, I would feel bad when I looked around at my peers and saw them with multiple bags full of garbage. My kayak from afar looked empty and I was both afraid that I wasn't doing my part and that other people were thinking that too. Over all that day, I believe we removed around 150 lbs of trash from the environment. But, the facilitators argued that poundage isn't really the most important thing. While it's great to be able to get the big stuff out of the environment, it tends to be all people really focus on when they do coastal clean-ups. No one goes for the small microplastics because they aren't looking for them, or picking them up is tedious, but they are actually some of the most important debris to remove. We still had an impressive haul from that day, but I think we all became a little more conscious of the fact that every piece of garbage is important, no matter how small. I think one really important thing to take away from our day of kayaking is not to be discouraged when you are unable to find any trash. At the beginning of the day, we were all sad that there was nothing for us to clean, but is that not the ideal situation? While we were all occupied thinking today will be a failure, we failed to realize that not having any trash to pick up was actually a huge win for the local environment.
The rest of the week, we went about our beach clean-ups and dive for debris and removed a grand total of about 800 lbs of trash from the coastal areas of Key Largo. It was hard manual labor, out in the hot florida sun and often with little access to water. It definitely pushed us to our physical limits on many occasions, leaving us exhausted by the end of the day. Throughout our time, I learned the sad and surprising fact that most people in the Keys don't really care about the environment. People would tell us we were doing great things, but never offer to help and instead continue to add to the problem. At one point, one of our divers popped an O-ring. Instead of taking it and disposing of it properly, the captain of the boat simply threw the plastic ring overboard. Ironically, the only reason we were out diving was to remove trash beneath the surface. Another time, we went to have dinner at a friend of the Rabbi's house. He served us on single use paper plates with plastic utensils simply because he did not want to have to do the dishes after we left. As if that were not bad enough, he also gave us reusable plastic cups and when we were done with them, we were told to, "throw them away, they're plastic." It was hard to watch the way people treat the world, especially in a place like the Keys where the effects of climate change will be hitting them first.
I believe that education is the first big step in helping people become more environmentally conscious, but time is running out and we must act soon before it is too late.
Date: August 22, 2018 Views: 4326 File size: 17.0kb, 101.2kb : 960 x 742
Hours Volunteered: 240
Volunteers: 8
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 18 to 60