Thousands of volunteers take part in Baynanza to help keep Biscayne Bay clean

MIAMI – Earth Day is coming up on Saturday and as we look for opportunities of service to show our love for our planet, thousands did just that last weekend, cleaning up the shores of Biscayne Bay.

Now in its 41st year, Baynanza brought together thousands of volunteers from all over South Florida who are concerned about the fragile state of the watershed, and want to be an active part of the solution.

“I can make the world better, cleaning up all the trash that creates pollution,” said Liberty City Elementary 5th grade student Romey Estimable.

A total of 31 clean-up sites were set up all over the shores of Biscayne Bay, which for years has been at a critical tipping point, especially after yet another fish kill last October, because of all the land-based pollutants that continue to flow into the watershed.

“Today is a day to celebrate Biscayne Bay, but also to make that commitment to do your part to help Biscayne Bay recover,” said Miami-Dade County Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague.

Hialeah High School student Krislarie Vallejo-Mennes underscored the issue, saying, “Trash in the water starts out inland, it gets blown in there, people start chucking it in the water, because they don’t want to deal with it.”

Maggie Winchester with Ocean Conservancy echoed that statement.

“Anywhere in Florida, really, you’re no further than 60 miles away from the ocean,” she said. “So no matter how inland you are, you’re still impacting the ocean.”

Education is key.

That’s why this year, four clean-up sites were organized inland. Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah was one of them, organized by Debris Free Oceans and Ocean Conservancy.

“We saw a lot of surprised faces where we weren’t necessarily anticipating a lot of debris inland, but unfortunately, that is the case, a lot of times we do see plastic pollution and other forms of debris,” said Maddie Kaufman with Debris Free Ocean.

Added Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: “That is exactly the message, and just imagine those rains we had for the last few days, how much garbage washed into the bay. We’ll be cleaning up a lot of it today.”

That they did, all the way south from Deering Estates to the trashy shores of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, where volunteers cleaned up and removed over 2000 pounds of trash, and the littered South Beach sands of 21st Street and Collins Avenue, where volunteers with Clean Miami Beach picked up 177 pounds of litter.

“Really, Miami, we’ve got to do better,” said Clean Miami Beach Founder Sophie Ringel.

Some of the worst sites were right in the bay, where careless, selfish boaters continue to leave all their garbage on the spoil islands like Sandspur Island, which is located in the north bay near Oleta State Park.

Volunteers saw trash everywhere.

“The people that come are volunteers and aren’t the ones making the mess,” said volunteer Paul Abiri. “The Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the high school kids, that’s not the people that trashed the place.”

Said Steven Crow with Boy Scouts Troop 427 out of Miami Lakes: “Honestly, it makes me feel sad and angry at the same time. There’s so much trash over here, and it’s just a little bit, and other microplastics, like you see them in the floors and they blend in with the shoes, and it’s just crazy.”

The message is glaringly obvious.

“Whenever you go to these islands, just pick up your trash, take it back with you, it’s no big deal,” said volunteer Pamela Sweeney.

The good news is that the eco-army is growing as people are waking up.

“Don’t be nasty,” said Estimable. “Clean up your trash. You should know better.”

More than 4200 volunteers pitched in to remove 30,000 pounds of trash from our bay and backyard, and that says something.

“You don’t think about these things, and then when you do events like Baynanza, you see the impact that just two people can have, if you do two people and then you amplify that further, it’s a crazy impact,” said Florida International University student Sebastian Calonge.

And that is what Baynanza is all about.

The sobering fact is all this cleaning up is futile unless the global community dramatically reduces its consumption of plastic.

A major study released in March estimates there are more than 170 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s ocean right now.

That’s 21,000 pieces of plastic in the ocean for each person on Earth.

It is a global crisis and we all need to step up and do better.

Right now plastic production is expected to triple by the year 2040.

For more information about getting involved with a clean-up, click here.

Those wishing to do more to help save Biscayne Bay, volunteer at a clean-up or for more information about attending the Cleo Institute’s Earth Day Celebrations on Saturday can click here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.