Spring Break Means Trash Cleanup for Hundreds of Students on Elliott Key

Students from about 20 schools have dedicated their vacation to cleaning the beaches there

Elliot Key may be one of the most beautiful spots for a college spring breaker. But if you get a little closer, it can look anything but.

“I know many of us keep repeating how shocked we are at the amount of trash,” said Valerie Kuznik, who is one of hundreds of college students from roughly 20 schools across the country who have dedicated their spring break to cleaning the beaches of Elliot Key, in Biscayne National Park.

Kuznik, who came from Vanderbilt University, says she and her friends will never see South Beach on this trip – but what they are seeing is much less glamorous but much more gratifying.

“If we don’t come out and remove it every year before turtle nesting season, then they are unable to dig their nest, they abandon (it) and there are no babies that year,” she said.

If fewer sea turtles nest, that affects the broader ecosystem. But it’s not just South Florida that’s creating the garbage mess.

“It’s all one interconnected system, so something someone does halfway around the world is being affected here,” Kuznik said.

It is legal to dump garbage 25 nautical miles offshore. Many times that trash gets caught up in the currents and finds its way to Elliot Key.

The students working there this week hope to one day change that.

“That’s just insane to us, the fact that this trash isn’t here by accident,” Kuznik said. “There are literally people out there dumping it and we are out here cleaning it up so the sea turtles can have a normal process.”

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