What a difference 1 day, 100 volunteers, and 11,000 sea oats make!

On Friday, May 30, three hundred travel and tourism professionals representing Tourism Cares, a service organization that mobilizes members of the travel industry to destinations in need, gathered in Miami to volunteer their time and energy to restoring three ecologically and culturally significant sites on Virginia Key: the Miami Marine Stadium, Historic Virginia Key Beach, and Virginia Key’s North Point.

The volunteers were split among the sites: some worked to remove debris from the Miami Marine Stadium, a relic venue that has hosted musical acts from the Miami Philharmonic to Jimmy Buffet. Others planted coastal hammock plants in an area adjacent to the Historic Virginia Key Beach, once the only designated African American beach in Miami. The third group trekked to the North Point of Virginia Key, a coastal area that has been a dumping site for decades. The North Point is a natural oasis in close proximity to both the densely populated urban environment of Miami and the fertile seagrass beds of Biscayne Bay. This unique site is home to a broad diversity of habitats; within North Point’s 17 acres, beach, dune, freshwater wetland, hammock, and mangrove habitats all coexist.  Virginia Key North Point is also a nesting site for loggerhead sea turtles.

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As the Port of Miami is dredged to make way for increasingly larger ships, the dredge material has been piled on the beach at North Point. For the last three months, Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MuVE) at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science has been working with Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) and the City of Miami to remove invasive vegetation, such as pervasive Australian pines and an invasive dune plant called scaveola to clear excess fill from the beach, and to grade the remaining material into a natural dune. Since May, three loggerheads turtles have laid their nests, paying scant attention to the newly transformed beach. Our efforts to level the beach while removing unruly invasive plant roots and stabilizing the sand with native dune plants should attract more of these charismatic animals to the site.

Tourism Cares volunteers jump-started the process of recovering the bare sand with stabilizing sea oats, planting nearly 11,000 individual sea oats! We will continue this task throughout South Florida’s rainy season, collaborating with volunteers from local schools, businesses, and the general public.

More than 2,000 Tourism Cares volunteers have donated more than 20,000 hours at sites across North America. Says Tourism Cares CEO Mike Rea, “The travel and tourism industry consistently set the standard for businesses giving back.”

If you’d like to help reclaim nature on the North Point of Virginia Key this summer, please sign up to receive email updates from MUVE.

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Volunteers from Bavaria, Germany (about an hour outside of Munich). This was an important experience for them because they live in the area of the Bavarian Forest, the largest forest in Europe. They have a connection with nature at home and wanted to cultivate that connection for themselves and their clients while abroad.

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