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Children dumping trash on a boat in Florida aren't the only ones who need an environmental lesson

When two teenagers were caught on video throwing two trash cans full of garbage into the Atlantic Ocean during a boating trip in South Florida a few weeks ago, Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, called it a “teachable moment.”

He also stated that illegal dumping of garbage in Florida's waters is a “serious crime” and that “callous disregard for Florida's environment will not be tolerated.”

He's right on all those points. But children aren't the only ones in Florida who need a lesson on how to protect our environment and treat our natural resources with respect. Adults, too, apparently need a refresher.

In this context, there is a new environmental education initiative from the City of Miami called Leave No Trace. The concept comes from the Colorado nonprofit Leave No Trace, which has been educating the public on this issue for decades.

This is important. It is a welcome nudge to discourage boaters and others who visit the city's garbage islands in Biscayne Bay from piling up their trash and then driving away with a clear conscience. Too often, this trash ends up in the water.

Under the new plan, which is set to officially take effect on May 18, the city wants visitors to be more environmentally conscious by packing up their trash and taking it with them. No more piles of trash next to the already overflowing garbage bins on the islands. No – take your trash with you and dispose of it properly on the mainland.

This idea is not new. Many national parks require it. But for Miami, this is an important change, and Miami's boaters and other visitors to the islands must do their part. If we want to keep the bay healthy, we can start by taking personal responsibility for our own trash. You might think this would already be a given: Miami – and Florida – are heavily dependent on the health of the waters around us for our economy and our own recreation.

The city will launch an awareness campaign: it will put up signs, remove trash cans from the city's garbage islands, and announce that authorities will begin enforcing anti-littering laws for those who insist on leaving their trash on the islands. There will also be a social media campaign.

Until now, trash cans at popular boating spots like Pace Picnic Island are often overflowing after just one day of heavy boat traffic, Chris Evans, Miami's parks and recreation director, told the editors.

Especially during the boating season, which runs roughly from April to October, garbage can pile up quickly on the islands. Even if people try to do the right thing by piling their garbage in bags around the bins, a lot of garbage ends up in the surrounding waters and has to be cleaned up. This is bad for the environment.

We've known about this problem for years – the piled-up trash on the islands “has been brought up time and time again,” often on social media, Evans said. So now we're doing something about it.

This is a common sense measure. The first Earth Day was held in 1970 and Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring about pesticides and the effects of pollution was published in 1962. We should all know enough by now to pack up our trash and not leave it on an island in the bay. And we shouldn't throw it into the ocean, even as a juvenile prank.

Florida residents have not always been kind to nature. Out-of-control development, the draining of the Everglades, and feather hunters decimating entire bird species for their feathers – the list of ways we ruthlessly exploit our environment is long.

So, yes, there is a lesson here for the two boys, ages 15 and 16, who were charged with environmental pollution, a third-degree felony. According to arrest reports, the boys threw a significant amount of trash overboard: plastic water bottles, cans, grocery bags, plastic cups and other trash.

But there are lessons for all of us, too. In Miami, we need to show through concrete actions that we care about our fragile environment and the waterways that make our city so desirable. Sometimes that comes down to plain old personal responsibility: properly disposing of your own trash.

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Anna Harden

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