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2021 International Coastal Cleanup

Though Covid-19 is still present, this past Saturday, September 18, my partners and I were pleased to return to a feeling of relative normalcy through our International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) event at Biscayne National Park (BNP).

Elliott Key is located within BNP and is the longest, undeveloped island of the northernmost Florida Keys. Eight miles off the coastline of Miami-Dade County, this island is only accessible by boat. Elliott Key is where the Park’s sea turtle nesting activity takes place and serves as rookery habitat for birds. On Elliott Key, marine debris washes in with every incoming tide. Constant cleanup efforts must be performed to maintain these habitats. We enjoy working with Volunteercleanup.org and the Ocean Conservancy to collect data and use the opportunity to educate participants about the Park and marine debris.

ICC participant Sophia Perez shows trap line removed from Elliott Key. Photo: Ana Zangroniz

What makes the ICC special is that on the same day around the world, people are cleaning coastlines and capturing information about what they’ve found. As such, the data gathering is the most critical part of the ICC. The data is collated and used to create the Ocean Conservancy’s annual ICC reports.

This year, we worked with seven enthusiastic volunteers. In 2.5 hours, they plus we three trip leaders collected 282 pounds of marine debris. Now, as Elliott Key is eight miles across Biscayne Bay, the majority of the trash collected comes from boat-based sources. That said, aside from close to 350 yards of trap line, over 500 bottle caps close to 200 plastic beverage bottles, 259 microplastics were collected! The plastics are particularly problematic, as they become brittle and break apart into smaller pieces while biodegrading in the sun. This demonstrates not only the continuous need for debris removal, but a concentrated focus on microplastic removal as well.

BNP Ranger Liz Strom, left, and Roberto Perez weight bags of debris. Photo: Esmeralda Reyes

According to Dara Schoenwald of Volunteercleanup.org, the coordinator for the ICC in Miami-Dade County, 53 cleanups were held with a total of 2,984 volunteers for a grand total of 17,771 lbs of trash removed! The previous record in Miami-Dade County was 14,414 lbs so 2021 is now the year to beat.

There are several ways to participate in a beach cleanup. Biscayne National Park offers their Alternate Spring Break (ASB) program during the winter months. ASB is quite similar to the ICC experience that we offered. To learn more about this and inquire about availability, email: BISC_Beach_Cleanup@nps.gov. Other cleanups in Miami-Dade County are continuously hosted and advertised at: www.volunteercleanup.org.

Thank you to Sophia, Ashley, Roberto, Mirian, Joyce, Suzy, Esmeralda and Liz for a fantastic 2021 ICC!

Our ICC 2021 group with the final haul. Photo: Suzy Pappas