MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – What started as a trash cleanup day in Bear Cut Reserve over three years ago has turned into a massive passion project for a Miami native — and he plans to continue cleaning Miami’s mangroves single-handedly until his body literally cannot anymore.
His name is Andrew Otazo, and so far, he has picked up exactly 13,640 pounds of trash from the mangroves and shores of Virginia Key, Key Biscayne, and Biscayne Bay. He knows this because he lugs around a heavy luggage weight when he’s cleaning the mangroves in the Miami heat.
Thirty-three-year-old Otazo, like so many Miami natives, says he grew up by the water and has always loved seeing the mangroves. As he got older, he would go out to these reserves to seek solitude. However, his peace would be interrupted when he would stumble upon alarmingly massive amounts of trash, litter, and debris.
“I’ve been exploring these habitats since I was 13 years old and I absolutely love them,” he says. “Before I made major headway through Bear Cut Reserve, it was covered in literal trash. So, I’d go out to these areas to try to seek solace and peace, and every time I’d come out I’d be so upset — I’d be angry.”
“Three and a half years ago I was like, you know what - I’m just going to have to do something about this. And I’ve just been at it ever since.”
I officially spent 100 days over the last three years removing 13,640 pounds trash from South Florida's protected mangrove forests and seagrass beds! pic.twitter.com/p4lCYMaLGv— Andrew Otazo (@AndrewOtazo) April 14, 2021
Over three years later, Otazo, who works in public policy and relations for an international agency, has now collaborated with groups to clean the mangroves ranging from Belen Jesuit School and the Frost Museum of Science to the Miami Marathon and the Surfrider Foundation.
Most recently, he has gone out to pick up the litter left behind by spring break boaters and visitors, which includes red solo cups, masks, and other realted paraphernalia. However, he says nothing compares to the debris he uncovers after a major South Florida storm.