Students push to involve community in South Florida’s environmental future

Erica Echeverri is a master’s degree candidate at Florida International University focusing on environmental sciences. She is also the outreach coordinator at Brizaga, a company that works alongside South Florida cities and counties to explain climate change and provide information about what governments are doing.

“FIU has really highlighted the vulnerability of Florida’s diverse ecosystems to pollution, habitat loss and different issues concerning climate change,” Echeverri explains.

The work being done around South Florida goes far beyond beach clean ups and habitat restoration. It delves into infrastructure and innovation. Rising sea levels continue to pose a threat to South Florida’s communities and cities are working hard to ensure their citizens’  survival. 

“Our habitats are crucial as they provide ecosystem services that help maintain the marine environment,” says Michael Burba, an FIU junior acquiring a bachelor’s degree in sustainability and the environment. 

During his time at the university, he has attended many events focused on nourishing local ecosystems. A few weekends ago he attended a Miami Waterkeeper coastal hammock Rehabilitation volunteer event. 

Florida’s coast constantly succumbs to the forces of nature as well as the will of humans, its beaches and their ecosystems are constantly threatened by many different elements. 

Burba recently attended a habitat restoration project at a nursery in Virginia Key, where volunteers have been invited to come and help out by planting, germinating and maintaining native tree species. 

“There’s more to these nurseries than just revitalizing coastal hammocks,” Burba says. “These hammocks actually serve as nesting areas for migratory birds.” 

Coastal hammocks are narrow bands of hardwood forests that are located on coastal dunes near the shore. They provide safety for migratory birds when they are healthy and fit to provide shelter. The birds’ presence doesn’t only benefit wildlife though. It also benefits the state’s economy. 

Bird watchers are keen on these hammocks, as they provide a perfect environment to study these creatures. Avian tourism delivers about $800 million to the state economy every year.

“People can actively engage with their surroundings by participating in cleanup and restoration projects and supporting various environmental organizations in their area and worldwide,” says Echeverri. 

The master’s candidate works every day to help locals understand what their communities are doing to secure their future. Alongside her studies at FIU, she encourages everyone to take part in their communities, small actions can lead to big change.

Echeverri works with engineers, scientists and elected officials to create educational materials that teach residents about the different efforts made to mitigate the effects of climate change and their importance. 

Over the last 7 months she has planned, promoted and executed more than 20 public meetings and town halls in which residents were invited to meet with their elected officials and city officials to learn and discuss infrastructure plans. The topics of the meetings range from stormwater master plan improvements, to coastal flooding mitigation, to sustainable changes in city ordinances. 

Her work is not only about being involved in creating a better future, but it’s also about making sure the people of South Florida are informed and take part in their future. 

“One of the key takeaways would be the interconnectedness of human activities and the environment,” says Echeverri. “Adopting sustainable practices in our daily lives, such as reducing plastic usage, conserving water and promoting eco-friendly initiatives is another tangible way to make a positive impact.” 

Jonathan Casaverde Maimon is a senior majoring in Digital Communications with a track in Digital Journalism as well as a minor in International Relations. When they graduate, they plan on obtaining a master’s in political communications and continuing to work in Washington DC.