Microplastics in the AIR?

Hey guys, so I’m taking a little break from posting only podcasts and I’m going to get on here and write some short and sweet blog posts for the times that you or I can’t do the podcast thing.

Let’s talk about plastics…again. This time let’s focus on microplastics.

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I don’t know if you have been following any news source lately or if it’s just my college department’s newsletter, but I have been seeing a lot of news regarding microplastics. I’ve always known that they are an issue, obviously, but I didn’t think it was getting this out of hand.

Nature and NPR released articles relating to finding microplastics in the air in France’s Pyrenees Mountains.

Microplastics….in the air….

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Now we can’t breathe in either…first, we couldn’t eat salt from the ocean or fish and now we can’t even breathe in France and around the world. Incredible…

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These are the mountains in France, the Pyrenees Mountains.

All jokes aside, this is actually really alarming. Apparently, high amounts of microplastics are raining down on a remote and seemingly pristine part of the mountains and according to scientists, they could potentially be floating everywhere. So now it’s raining microplastics, too. I honestly don’t know how this isn’t extremely alarming to anyone else besides the professors that are sending the students these news articles.

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Let’s go back a little bit and talk about what microplastics are really. They are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life. Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. According to NOAA, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as cleansers and toothpaste. They easily pass through the water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and they pose a potential threat to aquatic life.

We need to be more aware of the way we are affecting our environment. Now it’s not even a matter of not using a plastic straw, it’s a matter of just completing stopping the use of plastic or generating better ways to recycle it or to reuse it in products we “can’t live without” or products that everyone uses. If we can find ways to repurpose all of this plastic we are wasting and throwing away, we could definitely make a huge difference. Obviously, completely getting off plastic worldwide is the goal, but we have to start somewhere, right?

So how did they find the microplastic in the mountains? Well, one day the researcher who was part of the team dreamed up the experiment, Steve Allen, thought about what happens to something like a plastic bag on a fence flapping away…the plastic has to go somewhere once you don’t see that bag there anymore. Allen’s team set up some collectors there for like five months to trap the plastic particles and they said they expected some, but not as many as they actually found.

They found…. get this…365 plastic particles on average every day on a square meter collector. They found several types of microplastic floating on the wind in the Pyrenees like fibers from clothing, and bits from plastic bags, plastic film, and packaging material.

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This is the kind of example of plastics stuck somewhere that will eventually break down into micro ones.

Apparently, it isn’t even local. The closest villages around the mountain are within 60 miles of the study site. In the NPR article, they said that scientists know how dust travels, like from the Sahara across the Atlantic, but scientists basically don’t know anything about how microplastics move. It’s not something that people have been observing in nature for decades…. this is something that has been happening recently.

So, this next part is the part that kind of shocked me a lot, besides the already shocking conclusion that there are microplastics in a mountain range that is 4,500 feet above sea level. Allen says that if this much micro plastic manages to get halfway up the Pyrenees mountains, it could theoretically be everywhere. And that probably means that we are most likely inhaling them right now. Another scary thing is that if we are inhaling them, what will happen to us? We don’t really know how our human systems will react to microplastic. Chelsea Rochman, a plastic researched at the University of Toronto found microplastics as far away from civilization as the Arctic. So, it doesn’t matter that you personally don’t use any plastics, if the person in another country is still using it. The broken-down plastics will find their way to you, apparently. Obviously, this is all speculation, but scientists believe it’s probably what’s happening.

If you want to read the NPR article yourself here it is. It’s really alarming to think that plastics are in our air now, but that is something for you to have an opinion, or not, about. Tell your friends about this and make them aware of what is going on in our environment. This is in France, but the trade winds and all the other wind systems make these things travel to us or to you.

Until next time and don’t breathe too much! (haha…just kidding?)

Dani

Episode 5: Carbon Footprints!

Have you ever wondered about carbon footprints? Maybe you want to offset your emissions somehow…well it’s a thing you can do and I talk a little bit about it on this episode!

Episode 4: Twenty-Something Environmentalists

Hey guys! I’m finally back with another episode. I know it’s been quite some time since I posted one, but it has been a couple of crazy weeks for me. Nonetheless, I’m back with another episode and this time I’m accompanied by one of my fellow classmates, Adrian Figueroa. He is a senior, like me, at Florida International University studying Environmental Studies. We kind of talk a little about everything relating to our field and what it is like being environmentalists in this world and at our age. We touch on some issues regarding diversity within our field and things that we would do to help move that forward.

I hope you enjoy this longer episode and I will talk to you guys in a week (hopefully!).

Until next time,

Dani

Episode 3: Zero Waste Journey

Hey everyone! I’m back with another podcast episode. I’m still trying to figure out what the best upload date and recording date is best for me. On this episode I discuss my journey to being zero waste so far. I’m far from being completely zero waste, but I’ve given you some tips and definitely tried to guilt you into becoming zero waste in this episode. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know if there are anythings you would want me to change or what other topics I can discuss on the podcast. If you would like to be on the podcast, don’t hesitate to comment and let me know!

Back to School? How to be waste-free at school.

It’s that time again for a lot of us.

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That time of year where we have to discontinue our binge-watching and get our lives together for.

BACK TO SCHOOL!

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I’m entering my final year at my university, but this year is different. I’m trying to be zero-waste this year, which makes shopping for school supplies a bit complicated.

I headed to Walmart with my brother the night before my semester starts, which was the worst idea I could have ever had, but we started to hunt for our supplies.

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I then realized, that I have to be as zero-waste as possible. It’s really hard to do that when all of the pens, pencils, markers, and other writing utensils come in plastic wrappings. Sure, the backing is cardboard (which we can recycle), but the wrapping covering them is plastic.

One of the blogs that I follow for zero-waste inspiration and shopping is called Package Free Shop. In this store you can find all sorts of package-free items like razors, toothbrushes, shopping bags, and other such things.

For back to school, they added some school supply items that are package free and sustainable. They have recycled paper notebooks, binders, and folders. They also have 100% cotton pencil pouches and book bags. I also recommend if you already have pencil pouches or notebooks that are half filled, just keep using them. If they have a rip, just do some basic sewing and fix it. That is one way that we create waste: by just throwing things way because we don’t like the anymore. There are DIY ways to just revamp something that we do not like anymore. Try to find those ways. If you really don’t want to keep it anymore, but it is still a good item, then just donate it to Goodwill or other secondhand-stores around you.

If you can’t get your supplies from this website and Walmart is just closer, then try to find the least wasteful things.

Pilot has pens that are called B2P (Bottle-2-pen), which launched in 2010. The gel ink and ball point pens are made from 89% and 83% recycled plastic bottles respectively. They are all 100% refillable.

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Notebooks are for the most part recyclable, but you can always try to reuse the ones from the last semester or school year. This way you can reduce the amount of waste you are causing. Always try to save things you used from the previous year so that you can use them for the following semester.

If you are in the market for a new notebook, there are these super cool reusable notebooks that I found out about last semester. They are called Rocketbook. It is a reusable, digital notebook. There is an app that the notebook goes with where you just upload the pages to and then erase it when you’re done.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write notes.
  2. Choose a destination. You use symbols at the bottom of the pages that connect to your Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, OneNote, iCloud, iMessage, or Email. Each symbol represents a course that you are taking or a specific destination.
  3. Scan your pages.

To erase your notes, you just have to wipe them clean with water and a cloth. It’s really simple and can be used an endless amount of time.

It’s always a little difficult to be zero waste, but you just have to be conscious about the items you are grabbing and buying and how you can reduce your waste. Will it be recyclable? Can I refill it? Can I donate it when I’m done?

Good luck!

Until next time,

Dani

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I’ve been away for around a week and for good reason.

This summer I had the chance to be an intern at Everglades National Park through a program called Latino Heritage Internship Program, LHIP for short. I was one of two LHIP interns at the Everglades. My job was to work with the education department and help them make their Nike Missile Site Program better.

I had the chance to explore new places in the park and around the park. Sadly, my internship has come to an end. To conclude it, LHIP hosted a conference in Colorado.

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We started our conference in Denver, Colorado in the Intermountain Regional Office for the National Parks Service. We got workshops relating to USAjobs.com and federal resumes. We also had the chance to present to the other 42 interns about our projects or what we spent all summer working on or doing. After the workshop, we started our travel to Boulder, Colorado, where we would have dinner and drive to Estes Park to sleep. Estes Park is the town right before Rocky Mountain National Park on the east side of the mountains.

The plan for the Rockies was to get an exclusive tour of the park since only one of the interns within the program had been working there. We had three “breakout sessions” where the group would be split into three and each person was able to go to two sessions. The three were fire and rescue, llamas, and trail maintenance. I chose the trails and llamas (of course). We were able to see how the rangers in the park are able to keep the park clean and maintained. They use horses for trail work and llamas for the backcountry bathrooms since the park is composed of mountains and you can’t exactly get up there by car.

Here are some pictures of the llamas. We were able to walk them and be with the three llamas that the park leases for a couple of months. Their names were Dorito, Wilson, and Hector.

We were also able to make some stops before getting to the breakout sessions.

The park rangers that guided us took us to the highest peak in the park, where the altitude was no joke.

This trip was an incredible experience. I was able to connect with 41 other Latinos who were also heavily interested in working towards saving our environment. I had never been around a group as incredible as this. We all connected right away and still talk to each other every now and then. We’re already planning a reunion!

The point of this blog wasn’t just to talk about my trip, but to maybe persuade you to going to the closest national or state park. Get out and experience nature for an hour or a whole day. Disconnect and enjoy what this earth has provided you with. Get out there and find your park!

Until next time,

Dani

Why should we care about the environment?

I think this question has a pretty simple answer: if we don’t, then we will seize to exist.

Morbid, but true. Our overall temperature is increasing. I remember sometime in 2014, scientists were saying that if we increased in overall temperature by two degrees Celcius, then we were all going to burn to a crisp. Here we are, in 2018, just a degree away from the two. If that doesn’t make you care about the environment, then I honestly don’t know what will. According to NASA, 2017 was 0.9 degrees Celcius warmer than average temperatures. THAT’S ALMOST A WHOLE DEGREE!! IN JUST ONE YEAR!!!

This video was from 2013, since I couldn’t actually save the 2017 one (which I linked in the above paragraph).

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The Earth is warming up people!

Yes, using and throwing away plastic is awful because it ends up in ocean and in fish and eventually in our bodies, but there is another reason why single-use plastic sucks: it’s made from fossil fuels.

If that sentence didn’t just give you an epiphany, then let me break it down (see it what I did there? It’s punny) for you further.

Plastic in the United States is now most commonly sourced from the nation’s production of “abundant and affordable” natural gas. Natural gasses like ethane and propane. Do those sound safe? Because they’re not. These are also byproducts of petroleum. So, yes, both the oil and gas industries in this country are so happy that this nation makes so many single-use plastics. This is also why they have not been banned in our country. Sadly, everyone in this country and its politicians only care about one thing: MONEY.

In the US alone, producers of polyethylene are expecting to increase production capacity by as much as 75% by 2022. Why? We don’t need to do that. This is why I’m trying to encourage everyone I know to stop using single-use plastic. All we’re doing is releasing awful toxins into our ozone layer. An ozone layer that is already being extremely polluted by our cars, our businesses, factories, trucks, and anything that releases carbon dioxide.

But carbon dioxide isn’t even the worst chemical we are releasing into the ozone. Methane! Cows release methane every time they go to the bathroom. So by eating less cow meat and products, you are decreasing the supply of cows needed to produce the products. Hence, you are already helping the environment so much.

Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, in terms of its contribution to global warming. I’m not telling you to become a vegan, because God knows I can’t do that, but maybe try eating more fish or find alternatives for meats. Veggie burgers are delicious. Almond milk is way better than cow milk and it makes you feel better. Chicken meat is just as versatile as red meat.

I’m not here to try and force you to do anything you don’t want to, but I am here to try and make you more conscious about your decisions and how it will affect the rest of the planet.

Sure, it’s easy to just say “oops forgot I can’t use this spoon” when you get one in your delivery, but it’s also easy to just use your own utensils and write in the Special Instructions box that you don’t need a plastic fork or a straw.

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I’ll leave you with this image by www. bezero.org that I think helps.

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I personally believe in all of you. If my posts make every one of you make a small change, I will have been successful. It’s hard, I know, but you can do it!

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Breaking up with plastic!

Everyone has some terrible habit that they just haven’t been able to get rid of like biting their nails or shaking their leg. The one habit that we all in common is accepting single-use plastic everywhere we go. I was having a conversation with my friends and they were asking me “well what about…” in relation to situations where it was “inevitable” to use plastic.

It really got me thinking about how difficult it is to stop using plastic. Especially in a city like Miami, where the population is mostly Hispanic. In most, if not all, Latin American countries people don’t have the privilege to even think about going zero waste. If the only meat you can afford is inside of a Styrofoam container and wrapped in plastic, then that’s what you are going to get. So when these people move to the United States, they are not used to thinking about which plastic is recyclable or whether they can find an alternative. It’s just what we’re accustomed to.

I’m currently trying to educate my family on things they can do to reduce plastic waste. After I went to Verde and showed my mom my mason jar filled with soap and conditioner, I think she realized that it’s something that is feasible. In this country, we are so lucky that we can be and do anything we want. So, why not change those terrible plastic-related habits?

I’m going to try and answer some of the questions my friends had and see if it will make the transition to zero waste a little easier.

Question #1: What if I’m going out to the movies and I get thirsty, do I just buy a water?

Answer: No, try to have two (metal) reusable water bottles. One to keep, empty, in your car and the other that you use on a day-to-day basis. If at any point you don’t bring your day-to-day one then you already have a backup in your car.

Question #2: Protein (meat, fish, chicken) comes in plastic, what do you do?

Answer: Not everyone has the willpower to own a farm, raise their animals, and then slaughter them so…I looked it up online (because this question stumped me) and I found that if you bring your own container, most butchers are willing to use it to put your meats in. They will place your container (mason jars, Tupperware, tin container) and zero it. Then they will place whatever quantity of meat you ask for and you’re good to go. They will only charge you for the pounds of meat that you got.

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Now, I haven’t tried this out yet, but I think it’s something that can be done. If you live in Miami and buy your meat at Latino-owned supermarkets like Sedanos, Presidente, or Publix you for sure will get weird looks. They’ll definitely talk about how weird you were for the rest of the day probably, but you will have lessened the amount of waste you normally make.

Question #3: How do you store food in the fridge? Is foil okay to use?

Answer #3: You can use beeswax wraps as an alternative. They are a bit pricey, but they are reusable for a while and they can be dumped into your compost. You can find them anywhere on Amazon, Etsy or the link I provided, which is a store solely dedicated to beeswax wraps. The foil is not really an alternative because it is a bit more wasteful than plastic wrapping, believe it or not.

At the end of our conversation, one of my friends made a good point: To be zero-waste you have to think more.

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I’ll include a picture of my lunch box today, but I’ve been really good about not using single-use plastic in my lunch. My main lunch will always be packed in a glass pointer with a plastic lid (sadly, but not single use), my snacks will be packed in reusable snack bags. I found a pack of three at Marshall’s for $3.99 by a brand called Yummi Pouch. Today I reused the bag my trail mix came in to pack my chips. I had breakfast in the office so I brought my own milk in a mason jar and of course, my reusable utensils.

It is true, you have to think more because you are trying to break some habits that you’ve had since you can remember. You have to be more self-aware of everything that you accept at a grocery store or when you go out. You have to remember not to take the straw or not use another cup for a new drink when you go out. You have to be more conscious of your decisions, but once you start getting used to it, it becomes a new habit, a good habit.

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Garbage Beach, Dominican Republic

What the heck is going on in the DR??????

Well, some garbage, mainly plastic, has been drifting onto their beaches. I’m not talking about some garbage, I’m talking about A LOT of garbage!

Let’s talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch first, then we’ll get into what is happening in the Dominican Republic.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is this awful idea that some terrible humans had. They said “Hey! We have no more space for unrecyclable plastics in our landfills. Wait! There’s plenty of space in the ocean!” The GPGP is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s ocean. It’s between Hawaii and California. They estimate that 1.15 to 2.14 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers. Sinc plastic is less dense than water, the plastic just kind of floats on the top and creates a patch.

Number 1 in the image is the GPGP.

The GPGP really sucks because of its size. The big plastics that are in the ocean will eventually deteriorate into microplastics because of the sun exposure, waves, marine life, and even temperature changes. These microplastics are literally the worst thing ever because they’re so incredibly hard to remove and the marine animals confuse them for food…

So now that you know about the patches of plastic in our oceans (still the worst idea ever), let’s talk about the Dominican Republic.

This is what it looks like right now:

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Beautiful? Nope. Depressing? You bet.

For a country that thrives on tourism of their beaches, this is probably a nightmare right now. So far, sixty tons of garbage has been collected on the beach since last week. Yeah, that’s only what they have collected. The garbage being collected has been mostly plastic bottles and Styrofoam takeout boxes. The worst two unrecyclable things in the world.

(That’s sludgy water splashing. Gross) Photo credit: New York Times

Apparently, they love to throw garbage in their rivers, which eventually ends up in the ocean and then it’s not their problem anymore, right? Wrong. It comes back in the form of garbage waves. It happens quite regularly actually. I just found this out through this New York Times article. Cyrill Gutsch, the founder of Parley for the Oceans, says this happens especially when there is a strong rainstorm.

Single. Use. Plastic. Sucks. Guys!!!! 

Now let’s talk about how to really stop using single-use plastic. Sure, you don’t get a straw with your drink anymore! Great! But what about your detergent bottle that you just threw out? Or the plastic bag you just took from Walmart? Or the tons of toothbrushes you throw out every year? And don’t even get me started about the Chinese takeout box that you just threw away…

It’s so hard to change something you’ve been doing your whole life, but it could really make a huge difference.

Be more conscious about what you use, accept to take, and then throw away. I know everyone has heard “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Those are steps: (1) Reduce the use of anything that you know won’t be recycled or reused, (2) Reuse that awful take out box and reuse that plastic bag, don’t just throw it away, (3) The last step, if you’ve done everything you can to not throw that detergent bottle away, recycle it.

Not every type of plastic can be recycled and that’s the biggest misconception. Everyone tries to recycle every plastic, but you can’t recycle all of it, hence the PATCHES OF PLASTIC IN THE OCEAN.

Your plastics have this the little recycle triangle with a number in it. The number is super important.

The image above is super helpful and provides some examples based on the number of the plastic. Save it to your phone and the next time you want to buy something that comes in plastic, it might help you decide whether or not to take it. If the plastic is not recyclable, maybe if you really need the product, you have to find something that it can be used for after you don’t need it anymore. Plastic 1 (PETE) is recyclable, but 25% of the bottles in the U.S. are recycled. So, yes, they are recyclable, but that does not mean that your country will recycle all of it.

My point is: if you can avoid buying it, then don’t do it. Sure, it can be more convenient to go to Publix and buy your detergent in the plastic bottle, but you can take a big mason jar to your local zero-waste store and you won’t feel guilty. Just think about that DR beach. You won’t want to buy it anymore.

You can shop from brands that support reducing plastic waste and actually act on it. Take Adidas, for example.

They partnered with Parlay for the Oceans to repurpose the millions of pounds of plastic currently polluting the world’s oceans. Instead of remaining waste, Adidas found a really cool way to use recycling to their benefit (the shoes are pretty cool, too). They actually are aiming to ONLY use recycled plastic when making their shoes by 2024. It’s already 2018, so yeah it seems far away, but come on…they’re trying. They are the only ones (at last shoe company) trying for real.

Be more aware and be more conscious about what you spend your money on. It might not affect you directly, but any day now we could have Garbage Beach here in the U.S. or in your country.

Until next time,

Dani

Latino Conservation Week 2018 – Everglades National Park

Today I had the chance, alongside Cesar, the other LHIP intern, to take out 20 latinos out into the swamp.

As an intern with the Latino Heritage Internship Program, we were tasked with creating some sort of event or program to help bring out Latinos into National Parks, ours being the Everglades. We decided that hosting an event would be the best idea.

I started with maybe hosting a night bike right through Shark Valley’s tram trail during the sunset…but that was kind of boring and something everyone does anyway.

My second idea was a slough slog! Earlier in the summer, I was able to go on a slough slog with my boss and the rest of the interns as part of our orientation of the park. Some of you might be thinking “What in the world is a slough slog?” Well…it’s the best way to experience the Everglades, in my opinion. It’s essentially a wet hike, but it’s not just a wet hike out into the sawgrass prairie. It’s a wet hike in waist deep water (my waist deep…I’m 5′ 2″) through a cypress dome. Cypress domes are the coolest things ever. They are composed of cypress trees.

These guys:

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They’re super skinny trees with giant bottom trunks. They like to grow in disturbed areas with a lower elevation than hardwood hammocks. Usually, in a cypress dome, there is an alligator hole where it all started. The trees in the center, closest to the alligator hole, tend to be the taller ones and as you move away from them, you start seeing shorter ones, thus, a cypress dome is created.

In our slough slog, we started out in the sawgrass prairie outside of the dome where you can find periphyton. When you first look at periphyton it looks like poop or something close to that, but really it’s all algae, bacteria, and little tiny organisms. Three kingdom groups in tiny, sponge-like material. They help filter the water as well and retain it when it is the dry season so the things inside of it can continue to grow.

Here we are popping our visitors’ slough slog cherry!

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Everyone seemed pretty excited after a couple of minutes because it was the hottest day and the water was actually really refreshing. We stopped for a while and Ranger Dylann gave a talk about periphyton and how the domes form. We gave everyone some time to adjust and become accustomed to the floor and being in the water.

Once out of the sawgrass prairie, we moved into the cypress dome. We walked around and talked about the bromeliads (air plants), we found a butterfly orchid in bloom and a cigar orchid that seemed to be coming back to life after Hurricane Irma.

When we got deeper into the dome, one of our visitors, who apparently has an incredible eye for wildlife, found a barred owl on one of the cypress trees.

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We continued and stopped every once in a while to admire the silence inside the dome. It was incredible to see other people, who love our National Parks and nature, enjoy something that to me has changed the way I see the Everglades. Since I have started my internship, I have now gone out to slough slog three times. Trust me, there will plenty of other times. If anyone out there lives near the Everglades and is tired of the same trails, go past the Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail and go into a cypress dome. Of course, if you are going to do this, don’t forget to let someone at the visitor center know.

It was so awesome to see so many young Latinos come out and want to try something new. Everyone was so trusting of us and just went right into the prairie, no questions asked. Sure it was the hottest day to this day, but everyone forgot about that the second we stepped foot in the dome.

We also had a super special guest at our event: John Morales. For those of you who are not aware of who John Morales is, he is the person who we, South Floridians, watch for out weather. He is the one we watch during hurricane season. He is the senior meteorologist at NBC 6/Telemundo. He is honestly one of my greatest inspirations. Like everyone else, he seemed to enjoy the experience, even dropping pins whenever we would stop so he could bring some friends on another day.

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I really hope this event won’t be a one-time thing and that our local national park won’t forget that the majority of the population around it is made up of Latinos. Even though I won’t be with the park after my internship, until I graduate maybe, I want to leave an impact. I want the park to create a program where they do outreach for students my age who are mainly Latinos and have never been anywhere near the Everglades. I want everyone to come out and do something they would never do on their own. I want everyone to experience the Everglades the way that I have been able to this summer.

Visit your closest National Park. Be one with nature.

Until next time,
Dani

(Photo credits to Cesar Zamora and myself)