MIAMI – It’s a beautiful Saturday spring morning, and the Miami Marine Stadium basin in Biscayne Bay is starting to fill up fast.
Boats and watercraft of all shapes and sizes are out, and many of the people on them are oblivious to the environmental footprint they leave behind.
“By the end of the day, the trash starts to accumulate,” Paolo Ameglio says. “Everybody finishes up, they pack up they go home. But the trash stays.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first feature in our new “Don’t Trash Our Treasure” initiative. Click here for more coverage and info about the series]
Ameglio knows these waters well. A paddling instructor for 10 years, he’s been helplessly witnessing the degradation of the bay due to the thoughtless behavior of many.
“Somebody’s trash bag — it’s a Publix bag,” Ameglio said. “It hasn’t been in the water but for a few minutes. That just came off somebody’s boat being careless.”
It’s not even noon and the garbage cans are starting to overflow on Willis Island, a tiny key across from the Rusty Pelican also known as Beer Can Island. Just one look will tell you why.
One boater shows how she makes sure to take care of her trash, but many don’t. They leave it on the ground. And when the tide comes in, much of that trash gets swept up right into the bay.
“Disgusting,” says a boater named Christian. “It’s teaching the kids to just throw your trash in the water, and leave it on the island. It’s just not a good thing.”
Local 10 News spotted two men pull up on a WaveRunner and dump out their trash on the shore, ignoring the garbage can just feet away.
“What about the trash over there?” we asked them. “What about this trash you just dumped over here?”
“I’ll be right back,” was the response.
“Who picks this up, brother? ... You’re going to leave this trash right here?”
The WaveRunner sped away, illustrating the problem we face.
We reported them to Miami Marine Patrol, which is now investigating. Officers on the water that day cracked down on speeders and reckless boaters. Enforcing litter laws is challenging. Marine Patrol only has eight boats on the water to watch over 25 square miles of bay.
By Monday morning, the basin, the islands, and the shoreline are all littered with trash — and so is the bottom of the bay.
“Look at this — beer bottles, you name it, is all here,” Ameglio says. “Red Solo cups. I hate these plastic bottles floating in the water, plastic bags from chips. ...
“As people of Florida, we gotta do better. This beautiful little island now is completely destroyed.”
Not far from the basin, in the heart of the northern bay, near Edgewater, a clean-up is happening on Pace Picnic Island, another popular spot with boaters. On Monday morning, this tiny island is also trashed.
“From the high-rises across the water, you can see all the boats, all the trash, and nobody’s been coming up here to pick up the trash,” says Tiffany Menichetti, a volunteer with Clean This Beach Up.
After the volunteers went to work, every last bit was collected — 851 pounds of trash picked up.
“This is not only disrespectful to the residents, but it’s also disrespectful to our wildlife, and I am so tired of picking up your trash,” says MJ Algarra, founder of Clean This Beach Up.
It’s no wonder our bay is dying from a combination of sewage spills, septic leaks, nutrient runoffs from fertilizers and storm drains — and tons of tons of garbage.
“Takeout containers, forks, knives, bottles cans — almost everything you can buy at a supermarket or convenience store is what’s washing up here on the shores of our bay,” says environmentalist Theo Quenee.
Last summer’s unprecedented, massive fish kill was an ominous alarm that Biscayne Bay is at a dangerous tipping point, and if we don’t urgently address how we take care of it, scientists warn we will lose it and all the marine life that inhabits these waters.
“Dolphins come in here with the young ones and they start teaching the young ones how to fish and hunt, right, but when this starts filling up with trash and things start dying,” Ameglio says. “This is just going to turn into a cesspool.”
The choice is ours. The moment is now.
“We gotta get better,” Ameglio says. “We gotta start holding each other accountable. ... We do not have a resource here that is self-renewing, we have to take care of it. We have to do better.”