Miami Waterkeeper is proud to showcase our second year in partnership with The International Seakeepers Society. This unique partnership was formed in early 2020 to provide a meaningful on-the-water experience for students in Miami Waterkeeper's Junior Ambassador Program to conduct water quality research and local clean ups. We are excited to share that this partnership has continued through the pandemic. Logistics have been altered to ensure our ambassadors' safety while upholding our outdoor exploration and research commitment to Miami's youth.
Last year, our first-ever boat expedition with Seakeepers occurred on February 9, 2020. Seakeepers supports marine science and conservation by utilizing privately owned water vessels as platforms for oceanographic research, educational outreach, and marine conservation. Their efforts eliminate vessel costs and permit marine science educators, like our team at Miami Waterkeeper, to connect youth and society to the water.
Over the past two months, our team at Miami Waterkeeper was busy executing not 1 boat expedition with a single, large group but 4 separate boat expeditions with smaller groups to ensure we followed COVID-19 guidelines for group sizes. Each excursion was split up into two parts—the first part focusing on water quality testing and the second part on marine debris.
Water Quality Testing & Last Year's Fish Kill
This year, the first half of each expedition focused on water quality research, testing water samples for and discussing the impacts of pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and water temperature on the local ecosystem. We did have some new exciting additions to the water sampling activity this year by introducing scientific gear, like Secchi disks, transects, and an opportunity to use one of our YSI water quality testing devices!
After acquiring water samples and data from the mouth of the Little River, Miami Waterkeeper staff used this opportunity to discuss last year's fish kill. Based on data acquired through citizens reporting dead fish last August, the Miami Waterkeeper team was able to show a potential epicenter of the fish kill, which was located near the mouth of the Little River. This has served as an important location for continued monitoring for water quality.
Students were able to understand the data they acquired by seeing how canals and more polluted waterways, like the Little River, showed lower dissolved oxygen levels, higher turbidity, and higher levels of chlorophyll. These water quality parameters were important signals of a declining ecosystem that scientists evaluated in determining the root causes of the fish kill in the northern basin of Biscayne Bay last summer. Students also compared salinity levels between the canal system and open water, illustrating how freshwater moves into Biscayne Bay, an estuary that depends on a mixture of fresh and saltwater.
Marine Debris & Behavior Change
The last half of each boat expedition was spent on Pelican Island just north of the 79th Street Causeway. This wasn't just a regular clean up though. While at the island, ambassadors participated in different research projects and removed marine debris from the shoreline. These research projects were centered around two topics: biodiversity and microplastics.
Students who participated in the biodiversity project used the app iNaturalist, an app designed to be a platform for citizen scientists to help identify and record different species they witness in a given area. Students who participated in the microplastics project helped uncover and analyze different microplastics and the origins of each. All in all, the addition of these projects was well received by our student explorers!
At the end of the clean up, while we packed our bags and were preparing to board the boat, we made sure to save time to talk about our experience on the island. Students discussed the weirdest items they found during the clean up and spoke about consumption habits in their daily lives. Microplastic and biodiversity groups shared their findings by talking about how microplastics could impact local bird species. We ended our trip by weighing our bags of trash collected, totaling over 120 pounds.
Miami Waterkeeper's Junior Ambassador Program is one of our longest-running and pillar programs at our organization. This program fosters the next group of environmental youth leaders in our community. Also, it reinforces the importance of scientific literacy across our community. Our staff was able to adjust quickly to a changing world this past year by ensuring all advocacy trainings were virtual, offering more in-person restoration events with limited capacities so our participating students could have options to safely attend, and following all local COVID-19 guidelines. Despite these changes, we are excited to graduate this year's cohort in May and recruit a new incoming group for next year!
Youth Interested in Joining Next Year
If you are a high school student interested in marine science and water conservation, be sure to apply for next year's Junior Ambassador program that begins in September 2021. Applications for next year are now open on our Junior Ambassador Program page. If you have questions about the program, you can find answers on our FAQ page.
Thank you to our partners and sponsors for making this program possible: International Seakeeper's Society, Fleet Miami, The Albert and Jane Nahmad Family Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and The Perez Family Foundation at The Miami Foundation.