MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Following South Beach being trashed by students from Miami-Dade public schools, Miami Beach city leaders are taking note and taking action as spring breakers descend upon our beaches in the coming weeks.
There was anger and outrage after last week’s incident.
“I honestly cried, I’m not going to lie,” said Maria Algarra, founder of Clean This Beach Up.
The sands of south beach were littered with garbage from the South Pointe pier to the Second Street lifeguard stand after a day on the beach turned nasty.
“Seeing the amount of trash and the kids leaving with no remorse just broke my heart,” Algarra said.
But these weren’t tourists, these were students from several Miami-Dade County public schools who were ditching class for an unauthorized senior skip day.
“This from our kids? Really?” asked Sophie Ringel, founder of Clean Miami Beach.
In fact, it was tourists and local volunteers who cleaned the beach up, only to have it trashed again by some of the partiers who came back, ripping open more than 40 bags of garbage while looking for items they left behind.
“There is no excuse for what they did,” Algarra said.
Both city of Miami Beach and county public works crews responded to pick up the mess by sunrise, but volunteers who regularly come out to clean our beaches say our leaders need to do more to stop this trashy behavior before it manifests on our shores.
“The problem is that it gets to be a mess in the first place,” said Dave Doebler, co-founder of Volunteer Clean Up.
“This is not an issue that’s cycling through. This is a constant underlying issue that’s always overlooked,” added Theo Quenee, founder of @sendit4thesea.
“There needs to be enforcement,” Ringel said.
Littering on Miami Beach is supposed to be illegal. A first offense imposes a hefty $1,500 fine. The second offense is $2,500 and a third offense is a whopping $3,500, but it’s rarely if ever enforced.
“It’s so hard to enforce litter laws, why is that?” Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre asked Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
“Well, because you have to see somebody littering,” Gelber responded. “At the end of the day and seven half miles of beaches, if there are people who want to be jerks, and want to pollute, it’s very hard to stop them. And the only option is to clean up after them.”
But activists say that sends the wrong message and that more must be done to deter people from littering before they step one foot on the sand.
“We’re not engaging with people, we’re not telling them how they need to behave, we’re not re-enforcing the positive behavior,” Doebler said.
In years past, he and other activists would stroll the beach on high impact weekends, like spring break, with clever posters to remind beach goers to enjoy, but respect our backyard.
“We’ve gone out with garbage bags,” he said. “We’ve walked along the shoreline and asked people, ‘Hey, this trash is getting in, can you give us a hand and pick up the trash?”
Doebler said they’ve had a good response by doing that.
“It’s just we’re just volunteers. We don’t have all the resources to be able to do this on a continuous basis,” he said.
The city of Miami Beach, however, says it’s stepping up.
“Obviously, I was disgusted,” Gelber said. “We should do more, you’re right. We should do more.”
“People need to understand how important it is to, to not only keep the beach clean, but I think what they don’t realize is very often whatever you leave on the beach, is going out into the ocean,” the mayor added.
Just hours after the interview with Local 10 News, a plan of action was lit. The city is now activating a collaborative initiative to engage beach goers before they hit the shore.
Goodwill ambassadors during the height of the pandemic will join park rangers and volunteers on the sand during spring break weekends to encourage those visiting our beaches to be responsible with their trash, dispose of it properly and leave no trace.
“We don’t have to be super hardcore in order to get people to behave appropriately,” Doebler said.
But what about our kids? They live here and we showed a couple of them the videos from senior skip day and asked what they thought.
“Yeah, no that’s horrible,” said Joshua Suri, a senior at Coral Gables High School.
Janiel Martinez, a senior at Ronald Reagan Senior High School, said she believes people likely leave trash on the beach out of laziness.
“They should know better. This is their beach,” Gelber said. “You know, look, you hope then you can teach people good conduct.”
We invited Miami-Dade Public Schools to be a part of this important conversation. The district responded with this statement that reads in part:
“This district goes to great lengths to promote and encourage positive behavior among our students and we continue to remind parents to speak to their children about the importance of responsible citizenship.”
But for now, an army of responsible citizens is growing. Their message is loud and clear -- trashing our beaches is not OK and won’t be tolerated.
“Stop littering, please. Treat this as your home. This is your home,” Ringel said.
If you’d like to be a part of watching over our beaches during these next few weeks of spring break, our volunteer cleanup crews can use your help.