KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – On a warm Summer Saturday in July, an army of eco-warriors is getting ready to do battle with the enemy: trash.
All of the marine debris, plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and beer bottles embedded in the mangroves of West Point Preserve of Key Biscayne.
"When trash or rope or net get stuck in there and things start growing around them, they become trapped," said Manny Rionda, a longtime Key Biscayne resident.
Armed with paddle boards, kayaks, grabbers, buckets and knives, all of them committed to doing their part to fight the war on trash.
It’s a global crisis. Each year, 1.3 billion tons of waste is generated around the world and more than half the planet's population doesn't have access to regular trash collection.
A lot of that trash winds up in the ocean and onto our beaches, our mangroves and our waterways. Public works employees simply can't keep up.
"They need our help," Rionda said.
Rionda said he got sick of seeing all the trash constantly washing up on the beach of the island that has been his home for more than 40 years.
"I love Key Biscayne more than words express," Rionda said. "This is my community. This is where I raised my kids."
Rionda didn't get just get angry. He decided to do something about it.
"We got into the habit of bringing a bag with us when we hit the beach," Rionda said, adding that once it was full of garbage they shared a picture of it and got in the habit of using social media to raise awareness.
That is how the Fill A Bag organization was born. After winning a grant from the Miami Public Space challenge, Rionda was on a mission to motivate us all to clean up our beaches by making it easy and accessible.
"We had this idea to install Fill A Bag stations at beach fronts, so that when people came to the beach, they could turn a regular walk into a meaningful clean up," Rionda said.
Each station has an assortment of buckets, anyone can grab one and go for a walk to pick up trash. Sol Helou is one of the regular volunteers. She said the project makes a difference.
"We picked up a lot of trash and we're sorting it," Helou said. "I do this every day. It’s pretty easy anyone can just go and take 5 minutes out of their time. If you just see something, pick it up and throw it away."
In eight short months, even the Mayor of Key Biscayne has joined in.
"The most important part of the Fill A Bag program has been just that: It's getting people's minds around the idea of keeping our beaches clean," said Michael W. Davey, the mayor elected on Nov. 6.
The army is growing. The mission is spreading with 14 Fill A Bag stations now stretching from Key Biscayne to Surfside to Hollywood and most recently a new one at Smyrna Beach.
"A spark happens when you engage in this type of activity, it changes you, it promotes lifestyle awareness," Riona said.
It's motivating even the smallest of cadets.
"I can help the environment one bucket at a time," said 10-year-old Beatriz Alves de Lima.
It's not just their battle, it's all of ours. It is one nature is counting on us winning.
List of Fill A Bag stations
- Village of Key Biscayne Beach Park
- Key Biscayne Beach Club
- Oceana Beach Path (East Enid Drive)
- Key Colony Condominiums
- Crandon Park (b/ lifeguard 10-11)
- Historic Virginia Key Beach Park
- Virginia Key Outdoor Center
- Virginia Key Beach
- Surfside Community Center (93rd St and Collins Avenue)
- Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (Broward County's city of Hollywood)
- New Smyrna Beach - Flagler Avenue Boardwalk
- The Commodore Club in Key Biscayne
- Pavones, Costa Rica
- El Zonte, El Salvador