The Beach’s Green Man

Newspaper: Category305 Miami politics, culture, nightlife, and traffic
Title: The Beach’s Green Man
Author/Reporter: Rebecca Wakefield
Date: October 31, 2007

Luiz Rodrigues is the quintessential South Beach resident. He lives in a super-neat, art-filled condo south of Fifth Street, loves the party circuit, and is no stranger to the gym.

Then again, Rodrigues is nothing like the typical SoBeite. He’s spent the last six years of his life gleefully giving up numerous weekends to round up hundreds of volunteers to pick up trash from local waterways.

A soft-spoken, enthusiastic Brazilian, Rodrigues is the executive director of the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach, a volunteer organization, which besides the beach and bay cleanups, promotes anti-litter and recycling programs, habitat restoration, and consumer education about conservation measures.

Recently ECOMB got a $41,000 grant from Miami-Dade County to create a Clean Beaches program. The program, which Rodrigues optimistically predicts will begin in about a month, will feature a survey of the litter on local beaches, anti-litter ads in print media, and student-created messages for aerial banners that will be flown from Key Biscayne to Golden Beach. The messages will include statements like “Don’t Leave Your Butt on the Beach” in English and Spanish.

Some 15,000 anti-litter brochures will be distributed in hotels and groups of kids called Beach Protectors will walk around distributing biodegradable trash bags to people on the beach. Rodrigues says that the bags are already available at Boucher Brothers concessions, but he wants to eventually have dispensing units (similar to those found in dog parks) stationed up and down the beaches. They are also proposing to the county an adopt-a-trashcan program to pay for more beach cleaning.

Another project Rodrigues is working on is to increase the abysmal recycling rates on Miami Beach. He says that countywide, the recycling rate is about 19 percent.  Among single-family homes on the beach, the rate is about 36 percent. “But most of the condos and businesses are not recycling,” Rodrigues laments.

ECOMB recently ran six weeks of full page ads in the Miami Sun Post and is applying for a grant to produce a comprehensive brochure for residents covering the recycling ordinance, what to recycle and where, who to contact, and how to deal with hazardous waste like batteries and paints. Some area schools are interested in starting recycling programs.

Rodrigues is also talking to some companies interested in placing community recycling drop-off centers throughout Miami Beach. The centers would be placed for free and paid for by advertising. The city and ECOMB would also get part of the proceeds.

Habitat restoration is another issue for ECOMB. Rodrigues says that until 2002, Miami Beach used to have a natural coral reef just off the beach around 3rd Street. Then the city started pumping in tons of sand to shore up the beach and the sand migrated to cover the reef, killing it. “The bottom was like a garden of Eden,” Rodrigues says. “There were huge sea fans and sea stars everywhere.”

Rodrigues and others are promoting the idea of restoring the reef and/or building an artificial one not far from the original. “I want Miami Beach to be the Emerald City,” he says. “Miami Beach is glamorous and green is glamorous.”