Reckless boaters spoiling Miami’s spoil islands: They’re closing to everyone (2024)

MIAMI – When boaters hit Miami’s waters for Memorial Day weekend, there are some spots that they won’t be able to visit.

Effective Friday, the city will close all four spoil islands in Biscayne Bay to all water enthusiasts because of the heaps of trash left behind by visitors. Those islands are Osprey Island, Morningside Island, Pace Picnic Island, and Willis Island.

“We definitely want to take all necessary actions to ensure that people can recreate but they’re doing it in a way that’s responsible,” Miami-Dade County Chief Bay Officer Loren Parra said.

The move comes as a stunning reversal of the optimism felt by officials as they launched the ”Leave No Trace” policy over the weekend.

Overwhelmed by the enormous amount of trash being dumped on the spoil islands, the city of Miami activated the brand new policy that’s been used for years at many national parks. The initiative encourages those visiting natural areas to take their trash with them, by removing garbage cans from those spaces.

“Leave No Trace is already implemented in the national parks, people already know that whatever you pack in you pack out…which simply means you don’t litter [and] you don’t leave your trash behind,” community activist Sandy Moise said. “That’s just common human decency.”

The program’s official launch took place at Morningside Park on Saturday. That’s when officials took to the podium to inform all boaters and visitors to the city of Miami’s spoil islands on Biscayne Bay that they must pack in and pack out whatever trash they make on the islands and dispose of it back on land.

“Leave No Trace is the simplest form of civility,” explained Miami District 2 Commissioner Damian Pardo. “It simply says, pick up your trash… that’s it.”

The city was forced to address the issue because the enormous amount of trash that boaters regularly leave on the island has become unmanageable, totaling more than 120,000 pounds collected annually.

“If you want to continue to enjoy the waterways, if you wanted to continue to have the same fun that you’re having, you’ve got to take care of it,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.

Previously, trash pick-up on the Miami-managed islands only happened once a week. But after one day of boaters recreating on these islands, trash bins are routinely overflowing with garbage to the point that people create separate piles of trash. It was clear that those recreating were oblivious to the impact that their reckless behavior could cause and that an urgent solution was needed.

“The minute the tide comes up, it’ll grab any of this, any of these bottles, plastic, cardboard, and it takes a ride right into the water,” explained Miami Police Department Marine Patrol Lt. Oriel Tameron.

To drive home the new policy, signs were installed, all garbage cans were removed, and from now on the islands will no longer be serviced.

“Taking these [garbage cans] out of here, hopefully, it brings the awareness… it brings the message out to the people,” said MPD Marine Patrol Officer Arturo Del Castillo. “There’s no option to leave your trash here, you gotta take it.”

To make a fresh start, last Wednesday, officers from the MPD Marine Patrol spent hours in the oppressive heat picking up all the trash that thoughtless boaters had left behind.

“My goal is to pretty much push the reset button,” said Tameron. “We’re going to leave it as clean as we possibly humanly can…so that when people start coming to enjoy these islands, they’re already at zero.”

Divers even went underwater to clean up the bottom of the bay.

“How much trash are you finding in there,” asked Local 10 Environmental Advocate Louis Aguirre when speaking with the marine patrol.

“A lot…too much,” they responded.

Marine patrol officers collected over a thousand pounds of trash that day. So with the islands close to spotless on Saturday morning, city officials and activists returned to Pace Picnic Island to engage with visiting boaters to make them aware of Leave No Trace.

“We want everybody to come have a good time on our spaces, but take everything with them and take their trash out,” Chris Evans, Director of Miami Parks and Recreation, said.

The boaters seemed to be responsive.

“Not that hard man, pick up after yourself, take care of the environment, how hard is that,” visitor Kevin Elceda said.

And the activists seemed to be hopeful.

“From my conversations with the people here today, I think these folks are going to take their trash back,” said Dave Doebler, Biscayne Bay Health Coalition Chair. “The question is: Can we sustain this one-on-one engagement long enough in order to be able to educate who utilizes and benefits from these islands.”

But just one day after the program’s launch, the results were devastating.

“I already see piles (of trash) everywhere,” Albert Gomez, with the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition, said.

Local 10 News cameras went back one day later, just before sunset Sunday evening.

Unfortunately, the island was completely trashed and there was definitely a trace left behind.

Rather than take their trash with them, some people improvised and created their own garbage cans with gallon-size bags. Others didn’t even care to contain their waste and just scattered their trash all over the island.

We even found people sitting in the middle of all of that garbage, oblivious and unwilling to pick it up, even if it wasn’t theirs.

“It’s all about the party and not about the consequences,” Gomez said. “There’s no enforcement, so they’re going to do whatever the heck they want.”

The city of Miami issued a statement on the closure of the islands, you can read it below:

Effective Friday, May 24, 2024, the City of Miami will temporarily close four of its spoil islands, Osprey Island, Morningside Island, Pace Picnic Island also known as ‘Teachers Island’ and Willis Island, on Biscayne Bay in an attempt to further disallow contamination and littering throughout the bay and the islands.

The Miami Police and Parks and Recreation Departments are collaborating to raise public awareness about the detrimental impacts of littering and will enforce existing laws and regulations. This is a temporary measure to evaluate and restore the natural beauty in our City and our waterways. Anyone trespassing onto the islands will be subject to arrest. The Marine Patrol unit will enforce zero-tolerance measures against those seen trespassing.

On March 14, 2024, the City Commission enacted the ‘Leave No Trace’ legislation. This new policy represents a significant step forward in promoting responsible recreation and environmental stewardship on Biscayne Bay and safeguards the delicate ecosystem long-term.

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Reckless boaters spoiling Miami’s spoil islands: They’re closing to everyone (2024)
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