Honoring Don’t Trash Our Treasure’s 3 most treasured citizens

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Earth Day marked two years since Local 10 News launched Don’t Trash Our Treasure, and ever since it debuted, it continues to showcase South Floridians who are out there in the community, trying to make a difference with innovations and advocacy to restore balance to our natural world.

This past year DTOT featured so many inspiring heroes who are really moving the needle on conservation and resiliency efforts, but there are three individuals in particular who’s stories really resonated with Local 10′s viewers.

With his keen eye behind the lens and a social media reach with over 1.4 million followers, Palmetto Bay wildlife photographer Luca Martinez is making people all over the world fall in love with the Florida Everglades.

“My life’s been about chasing this wild,” he said. “The Everglades and the whole entire watershed is the lifeblood of the state. The state doesn’t work, the wildlife can’t live if there’s not the green ribbon that connects at all from the north to south.

“With people understanding the story and understanding the way this place works, that will lead to activism, and then to caring.”

Martinez’s crusade to save the Florida wild is what makes the 18-year-old a most treasured citizen.

“The first step to get people to care is they have to see the beauty, because how can you ask someone to care about something they’re not connected to,” he said. “And right now, that’s what I’m focused on.”

Since Local 10 News first met Martinez in January, exploring and photographing one of the sloughs of Big Cypress National Park, his influence just keeps growing.

His work was recently published in Oceanographic Magazine, and he continues to draw crowds whenever he speaks, most recently at an Earth Day summit attended by the mayors of 35 cities of the Americas and the Caribbean.

“My images and my videos are only as valuable as the words I attach to them,” said Martinez. “So it’s just part of it, just like the cameras to taking the photos.”

As the Palmer Trinity senior soon heads off to college, he won’t be going far. He said his work in the Everglades has only just begun.

“I have to say in South Florida,” Martinez said. “Because I’m connected to the story, and I know I can’t leave until I’ve left my mark on it.”

Another most treasured citizen is 15-year-old Cade.

“I needed to do everything that I could to help save them,” he said.

Local 10 News caught up with him at the Frost Museum of Science in Miami, nine months after he and other activists protested to stop a shark fishing tournament off the coast of Palm Beach County that resulted in the slaughter of at least 11 bull sharks.

“It made me so upset to see that the sharks, the ones that I’ve swam with for the past five years, just murdered for the sake of it,” said Cade.

It is an ongoing battle in Florida. Anglers are angry at what they say is an increase of sharks stealing their catch, versus conservationists fighting to protect the ocean’s apex predators being decimated worldwide by overfishing.

“It’s estimated between 100 million to 200 million sharks are killed each year,” Cade said.

His advocacy has been featured in the award winning documentary Unmasking Monsters Beneath, and his loud voice was also heard in Panama City in November for the 19th CITES convention when global leaders voted to increase protections on 54 species of requiem sharks and hammerheads.

“It means a lot because I’ve dedicated these past five years to helping to save sharks, and one of the highest places you could go is CITES,” said Cade. “Seeing all these countries come together to understand and realize that we need sharks and sharks are super important for us.”

But Cade says there is still much more work to be done.

“Sharks are like the white blood cells of the sea,” he said. “They’re one of the most important things in the ocean. You pull sharks out of the ecosystem, the entire ecosystem collapses.”

Local 10′s third most treasured citizen is Merle Liivand, who broke her own world record by swimming 30 miles in Biscayne Bay in 14 hours and 15 minutes to sound the alarm about the perilous state of the watershed.

“The Bay is in danger,” said Merle the Mermaid. “It’s dying.”

Using only a mermaid mono-fin, the 32-year-old Estonian Miami Beach resident has now set five world records swimming long distances to raise awareness about all the damage humans continue to inflict on the planet’s marine ecosystems.

“It’s sad to see that,” she said. “Oceans and Biscayne Bay dying, and we don’t act fast enough.”

Liivand said her latest swim was the most challenging because of all the pollution she had to swim through.

“This time was the worst I’ve seen ever that amount of trash,” she said. “The smell, and you couldn’t even see the bottom of the Biscayne Bay.

“And I know that seagrass is so important for Biscayne Bay and I wanted to see it but I couldn’t. There’s staggering amount of trash. The water quality is getting terrible.”

Despite the record breaking win Liivand fears there’s a big loss looming soon if people don’t step up and protect the bay.

“I’m scared to see if there’s going to be another fish kill because if fishes are dying in front of my eyes, that’s the moment where I understand as a human, as a mermaid, that we have lost,” she said. “But I don’t want to see that and I hope I never see that.”

During the swim, Liivand collected 20 pounds of trash, and her team found another 15 pounds. It’s a sad indictment of how the rest of South Florida is treating the watershed.

“You can make a difference,” she said. “If one mermaid picked up 35 pounds of trash during the 14 hour swim, then you can do better, and it’s up to us, everybody in South Florida, to save Biscayne Bay.”

About the Author:

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