STORY: [Andrew Otazo, ‘Amateur’ mangrove cleaner]
"I've picked up ten tons, 20,000 pounds of trash, over 117 days. It's not a victory. It doesn't mean anything other than getting people's attention because, wow, that's a big number."
Location: Key Biscayne, Florida
Meet the self-proclaimed ‘mangrove trash collector’
who’s been catching the attention of both Miami residents and local politicians.
“Batteries, bumpers, doors, furniture, mirrors, you name it. If humanity makes it, I have found in the mangroves."
Andrew Otazo has been stomping through the Florida Keys mangroves and picking up waste for 5 years.
He has one objective: to raise awareness about an ecosystem he’s known since he was young.
"I've been coming out here since I was 13 and for as long as I've been tracking the mangroves, there's been trash everywhere. And it's been really frustrating because as I got older and I learned more about the importance of the mangroves as a keystone ecosystem, I realized how much damage it was doing to local wildlife."
In the name of raising awareness,
Otazo has also completed a marathon while carrying 35 pounds of trash on his back
and collected litter while free diving.
The waste ranges from syringes and used diapers to furniture and mirrors.
"This is vinegar. It's used as a condiment. And it comes from Haiti or the Dominican Republic."
Otazo once collected the debris from what was a makeshift camp
used by a fugitive hiding from the law.
On this occasion he cleaned up a small Cuban flag
and a camping chair, among other items.
"There's a VR headset. There was right over there, actually, there was a $200 dinghy that washed ashore. There was a side of a cargo ship from Louisiana that had been in the ocean since 2011 that we found and we brought in. I've found enough car parts to build my own F-150 if I wanted to.”
Otazo acknowledges that his singular efforts are not a long term solution to the problem
but says his work has been garnering the attention of local authorities.
The waste mainly comes from litter thrown onto streets in the Miami area
that washes into storm drains and ends up floating into Biscayne Bay.
Otazo says authorities would need to install trash-trap systems on to storm drains
to prevent it from washing up into the mangroves in the first place.