The Biscayne Times

Jun 21st
Litter Goes a Long Way PDF Print E-mail
Written by Crystal Brewe -- BT Contributor   
June 2013

Miami’s trashy landscape provides a golden opportunity to teach our kids about protecting the environment

MPix_KidsandtheCity_613orningside Park’s Waterfront Recreation Center offers a spectacular deal: Guided kayak tours of Biscayne Bay for only $12 per person. Its professional team assists with life vests, wildlife identification, and guiding your whole family around the sometimes-difficult currents. We live in a tropical wonderland. What better way to explore it with your kids than something like this?

But what started as a leisurely, sunny Saturday morning paddle ended being an environmental lesson for our family, trying to explain to our children why there is so much trash in one of the most beautiful places in Miami.

Who would dump their trash on an island paradise in Biscayne Bay?

Only a matter of minutes after our boat hit the sand at one of the bay’s central islands, we spotted a sun-bleached doll head, a busted computer monitor, and multitudes of plastic bottles, beer bottles, construction materials, and even discarded packaging for a new tent. In every protective cluster of mangrove roots surrounding the islands, there were goopy groups of varied trash.

Even if we had thought to bring garbage bags on our kayak, we couldn’t have made a dent in that trash heap.

The sheer volume of birds circling, swooping, and perching was glorious. But seeing many of them tangled in debris and fishing line was something we hadn’t expected. City officials claim that most litter gets to the island with tidal activity, and with such limited budgets, the city can’t afford regular cleanups.

Matilda, my eight-year-old, asked if her Girl Scout troop could come out to do a cleanup project, but the thought of one troop of second-grade girls attempting this behemoth task was daunting.

So it’s a good thing that on April 20, thousands of volunteers participated in the 31st Baynanza Biscayne Bay Cleanup Day, an event held on Earth Day every year to remove several tons of trash from the shoreline and islands of Biscayne Bay. I repeat… several tons!

We should do more. We should teach our kids to do more. One annual cleanup isn’t enough.

According to Keep America Beautiful, most plastic pollution at sea starts out on beaches, streets, and sidewalks. Rain flushes it through storm drain systems or directly into creeks, streams, and rivers that lead to the ocean. After they enter the marine environment, they slowly degrade into smaller pieces that marine life mistake for food, sometimes with fatal results.

Do your kids know what a rainwater drain looks like? They are in parking lots, parks, and streets. The grates are usually large enough for that empty Dasani water bottle you discarded in the parking lot to slip right through.

There is a YouTube video of an adorable animated whale whose swim becomes increasingly littered with little pieces of plastic and trash until, finally, the whale jumps from the water to catch a quick breath and lands on a giant garbage flotilla. It is simultaneously shocking and poignant. Our sea creatures don’t know the difference between a plastic bag and their lunch, but it is our responsibility to make sure they don’t have to choose between the two.

I had a moment of clarity the other day when, on I-95, the people in the car in front of me threw the remnants of their Happy Meal out their window. They had two kids in the back seat. Nice example you’re setting, Mom. As the French fries flew across my windshield and to the pavement, I realized my childhood was filled with “Don’t be a litterbug” public-service announcements (including the ones with the crying Indian) and well-enforced, hefty fines for littering. We may not have recycled in the early 1980s, but we sure as heck didn’t litter.

Our kids know all about recycling, from what the bin colors mean to the proper way to separate recyclables. They know how to compost, and they participate enthusiastically in our neighborhood’s hand-me-down-clothing recycling program. Have we skipped a basic step in our effort to empower them with the knowledge to save the world? Perhaps we all need to go back to the basics and teach littering awareness.

A few days after our kayak adventure to the ill-fated island, Everly, my four-year old, made the observation that her school parking lot was littered and that the litter was perilously close to the rainwater drain. She was afraid a manatee was going to eat the plastic bags and broken balloons that were strewn across the asphalt. After what we saw on the island, I agreed and heralded her effort to clean up the parking lot.

Our local government spends millions on advertising our tropical beauty to tourists around the world. Can’t we spend some of those millions keeping our city presentable? It’s embarrassing having to explain to visitors why the bay is so polluted. It is even more embarrassing to have to explain it to our kids. We owe our future more.


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