Alejandro Mejia and company strive to save South Beach

Florida experiences and endures some of the United States’ hottest days on record each year. With that, there is a trickle-down effect of climate change across the Sunshine State, and in particular, Miami.

But a group of concerned residents have gathered weekly this year to combat the issue. And while they realize how imposing the challenge is, they walk away each weekend with their heads held high, knowing they did their part.

Alejandro Mejia gets together every Sunday with other Miami-Dade County residents to pick up trash left behind on South Florida’s beaches.

“Littering and climate change go hand in hand,” said the 27-year-old activist, who began this project a few months ago when he had a beach day and was saddened by all the garbage found along South Point’s beach. “People do not realize the effects littering has on our planet. When garbage gets dumped into the ocean, and even our landfills, it does not break down properly, which causes gasses that go straight into our atmosphere.”

The National Center for Environmental Information, which is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oversees the gathering of information on climate change. Together, these outfits examine today’s climate compared to 30 years ago. Florida, of course, is traditionally on their radar. In fact, these groups have revealed that the state is approximately 5 percent wetter than it was just three decades ago. This raises concern as to whether Florida will be completely submerged in water someday. After all, according to reports, Florida’s sea levels are expected to rise more than a foot by the year 2050.

Water levels aside, Florida temperatures play into this mix, as well. The state routinely sees the effects that rises in temperature cause, and that’s not likely going away anytime soon.

“This heat not only threatens our air quality here in Florida, [but] human and wildlife are also affected,” said Sagrado Ruiz, who has a degree in environmental engineering. “It takes a toll on the severity of hurricanes we see. So many factors come in to play when we look at the damage climate change is causing.”

Ruiz explained that while he and thousands of engineers worldwide are working hard to continue to find ways to lead an innovative and healthier existence, all while protecting the environment, people can also do their part.

“Recycle, ditch the plastic, if possible, switching to solar panels, buy sustainable, eat smarter, the list is endless,” he said, emphasizing that the future of our planet is a collective effort.

Florida is among the top ten hottest states in the United States, according to World Population Review, and Miami is the hottest city in the state. Florida currently has about 25 annual “dangerous heat” days, which means the temperatures reach at least 103 degrees. Due to the change in climate and weather patterns, experts are predicting that by 2050 there will be around 130 “dangerous heat” days a year in the state, and plenty of that will be felt in Miami.

“This is my city. I was born and raised in the ‘305,’” Mejia said, adding that he hopes to expand his efforts to other parts of the state soon. “It’s our job to take care of this place, not just for us, but for the next generation.”

For now, though, Mejia is focusing on South Beach, and given the national exposure in such a marquee area of South Florida, he hopes in due time this can become an effort that has national notoriety and support.

A major concern along South Florida’s beaches, South Beach included, is Algal Bloom, an extremely toxic algae that has specific, dangerous types in Red Tide and Blue Green Algae. Scientists have found that Red Tide thrives in warmer waters and feeds off pollutants such as nitrogen and wastewater.

And Florida is a hotspot for these. In 2018, Tampa Bay had one of the worst cases of Algal Bloom, which killed 2,000 tons of marine life from fish to turtles to even dolphins. Not only was this detrimental to the ecosystem, it also caused around $8 billion in losses to statewide businesses.

Nathalie Alfaro is a long-time resident of Tampa and recalls vividly how traumatizing it was to see all the fish wash up onshore.

“The smell was unbearable,” said Alfaro, who expressed frustration at the length of time she had to wait to simply have a “normal” beach day. “I went for a beach day with my family that was in town at the time from San Diego and we had to leave because the rotten fish smell was disgusting.”

“It’s sad to see how much the world is changing, especially because of the imprint we leave on this planet.”

If nothing else, Mejia and Co. are passionately working on that imprint … one weekend at a time.

Isabel Fassi is a student at Florida International University majoring in Journalism. Born and raised in South Florida, she grew up with a passion for fashion and a curiosity for true crime. Her mission is to share the stories of the unheard and silenced, one true crime case at a time.