Lawmaker stepping in as small islands in Biscayne Bay continue to be trashed

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – There is an ongoing mission to save Biscayne Bay, but frustrations are mounting after another disheartening video went viral showing boaters trashing the watershed.

It is just the latest incident prompting lawmakers to take more drastic measures to protect the fragile bay.

It’s just disgusting to see that kind of behavior,” said Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague.

Anger and outrage after Only in Dade recently posted a video on Instagram of what tiny Willis Island looked like after a day of people recreating there, in the heart of Biscayne Bay.

“We need to find a solution where folks are doing the right thing,” said Bague.

Bague is frustrated.

With the health of the watershed in rapid decline because of the constant flow of pollution, she can’t understand why people who enjoy the bay don’t take better care of it.

“We’ve been talking about really creating some restrictions around these islands,” she said. “And sadly, this is what we’ve come to.”

Local 10 News has been reporting on the growing problem ever since we launched Don’t Trash Our Treasure on Earth Day in 2021.

“By the end of the day, the trash starts to accumulate,” said paddle instructor Paolo Ameglio. “Everybody finishes up, they pack up they go home, but the trash stays.”

From Willis Island to Pace Picnic Island, and just recently during this year’s Baynanza on Sandspur Island, there were piles of trash everywhere.

It’s a big problem.

After only one day of boating, garbage cans are typically overflowing, so trash bags just get piled up around the bins.

“In another two hours, the tide is going to go up another foot (or) two, and all that trash is going to be underwater,” said Dave Doebler, co-founder of Volunteer Clean-Up.

Most of those islands only get serviced with garbage pickups once a week, but the signs on the islands clearly state: pack it in, pack it out, meaning you are responsible to take back to the mainland all the trash you made while having a good time there.

“If you’re going to go and picnic on these islands, bring the stuff back and throw it where it belongs in the garbage,” said Bague.

But people don’t seem to be getting the message, and now the state is getting involved.

Florida State Senator Ileana Garcia has made it her personal mission to clean up our waterways.

“The bad actors should be held accountable,” she said. “It makes me very angry, and it’s sad because you come to enjoy this treasure, and you’re going to ruin it.”

After sponsoring and successfully passing the Boating Safety Act of 2022, which cracks down on illegal watercraft rentals and charters, Garcia is now looking to tighten the screws, working on new legislation to mandate boater education if you want to operate a boat anywhere in the state of Florida.

“If you are driving a boat, it should be connected to your driver’s license,” Garcia said. “Every single person now moving forward will be required to take some type of education course.”

And that includes learning how to responsibly take care of our precious backyard.

“We have signs on the islands,” said Bague. “I think it’s an increase in boater education that needs to happen.”

The situation has become so critical that policy makers are looking to make it more difficult for motorized watercrafts to access the islands.

“No anchoring zones, for example, just passive recreation in and out of these islands may work,” said Bague.

With the health of Biscayne Bay hanging precariously in the balance, all options are on the table.

“Obviously, we don’t want to close areas off for recreation,” said Bague. “We want people to love and enjoy the bay, we just don’t want them to love the bay to death.”

This is not an empty warning. This is imminent.

Unless everyone stands up, resolved to take better care of our natural playground, the way we recreate here will be forever impacted moving forward.

The choice is all of ours to make, and every one of us should make sure that we’re all playing by the rules.

About the Author:

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