MIAMI (CBSMiami) – More than a dozen middle schoolers from Kipp Liberty Academy spent part of Thursday outside and on the beach, but they weren’t there to relax.
The students hiked alongside local environmentalist, Andrew Otazo, cleaning up littered waterways.
Over the span of four years, Otazo has collected more than 16,000 pounds of trash from Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. Now, he’s working to get youth involved in his mission.
Today’s goal is simple, pick up as much trash as possible.
“We always have to keep our oceans safe no matter what. Some of the animals in here, they’re helpful to the planet,” said Kipp Liberty 7th grader, Michael Figueroa.
We trekked through the mangroves and across a channel of water to get us to the beaches of Virginia Key, where unfortunately, there is no shortage of trash.
“Just think of the weirdest stuff you could imagine, I’ve found hypodermic needles, way too much underwear, clothing of all types. A body bag without a body, a 200-pound piece of latex rubber,” said local environmentalist, Andrew Otazo.
As the kids cleaned up trash, they also got a dose of history, learning about the importance of Virginia Key for Miami’s Black community.
“Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Muhammed Ali, they actually have a special history here. For leisure time, Virginia Key Beach would be the beach that Black folks could go to,” said Ashley Toussaint, dean of students at Kipp Liberty.
One by one, six trash bags were filled.
“It’s a very bad thing that people litter on the beach or anywhere,” said Fabian Appling, a student at Kipp Liberty.
Another middle schooler, Price Briggs, has helped clean up the community before. He said even one person can make a difference.
“Sometimes no one else will help so if you help, it’ll help the community a lot and make everywhere be a better place,” he said.
After today’s clean-up, Virginia Key is a better place. The students removed more than 100 pounds of trash from North Point Beach.
“They’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow so if we don’t get them engaged now it’s going to be hard for us to get them out here as adults to do this kind of work,” said Toussiant.
If you’d like to get involved in a beach cleanup, you can reach out to Andrew Otazo on his Twitter page or Instagram. Just type in @AndrewOtazo