In a world where many people demand action from others, one Florida man has chosen to carry the weight of others’ garbage on his shoulders, literally.
After years of watching trash build up in mangroves on the Florida Keys off his native Miami, Andrew Otazo began hauling out garbage in order to clean the environment and raise awareness about an ecosystem he has been enjoying since he was a teenager.
The public relations professional and self-described “amateur mangrove trash collector” has over the past five years removed over 10 tons of waste from barrier islands, including Key Biscayne, and from the surrounding waters.
“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,” said Otazo, 35, in an interview in Key Biscayne, where he now lives.
On a walk through the Bear Cut Preserve in Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park on Wednesday, Otazo collected debris from what was once a makeshift camp used by a fugitive hiding from the law.
He hauled away trash ranging from a small Cuban flag to a camping chair.
Otazo acknowledges that stomping through mangroves and carrying bags of smelly trash on his back is not a long-term solution to the problem. However, his work has gotten the attention of Miami residents and local politicians.
The trash primarily comes from litter thrown onto streets in the Miami area that washes into storm drains and ends up floating into Biscayne Bay, Otazo said.
Local authorities would need to install trash-trap systems on storm drains to prevent it from washing up into the mangroves in the first place.
“Hopefully at some point, policymakers will fix this problem,” he said. “I’ll be out here until I’m physically incapable of doing this.”
An endurance athlete and open ocean swimmer, Otazo once completed a marathon while carrying 35 pounds of trash strapped to a backpack to raise awareness of the problem. He has also collected trash while free diving.
The debris on the barrier islands runs the gamut from syringes and used diapers to furniture and mirrors.
“I’ve found enough car parts to build my own [Ford] F-150 if I wanted to,” Otazo said. “You name it. If humanity makes it, I have found it in the mangroves.”
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters