A beautiful thing happened on a windy morning in January. After 230 standup paddlers exited the sheltered waters of Miami's Bayside at the start of the 2013 Orange Bowl Paddle Championships, a flotilla of young volunteers dispersed on paddleboards to pluck trash from the harbor with the help of a simple but ingenious device. The individual scraps collected may have appeared minor, but the cumulative product was impressive.
Captain Carlos Macias, who organized the cleanup event and provided the equipment, watched with pride as the kids worked. Three years earlier, an eye-opener at Bayside had provided him the inspiration to begin what has become an international movement.
In 2009, Captain Macias was at the marina, preparing to pilot a group of tourists on a tour of Biscayne Bay. Heavy rains the previous night had flushed the city streets and deluged the storm water drainage system, which eventually flows to tide. Macias was shocked as he watched a stream of debris gushing from a culvert into the harbor. He launched his paddleboard and started collecting the floating trash, but found it difficult to bend down or kneel repeatedly. He tried using a handheld net, but holding both his paddle and a net was cumbersome, so he built a net that attaches to the paddle. Voila.
The EnviroNet consists of a panel of monofilament mesh mounted on an aluminum frame about 10 inches long and six inches wide. The device can be temporarily attached to any paddle using a bungee strap, and its placement perpendicular to, and forward of, the blade does not interfere with paddling. Add a trash basket on the board deck, and the only other component required is a willing paddler.
Macias, 58, realized that he could not accomplish enough alone, and outreach to watermen, and especially youngsters, became part of his mission.
To demonstrate his dedication to the cause, Macias vowed to leave his hair and beard uncut until he collected a metric ton (2200 pounds) of marine debris. His wife Rose was glad when he achieved that goal a year later, and shaved his nine-inch beard, in December 2012.
Support from other family members has helped attract international attention. Macias' son CJ (Carlos Jr.) is an avid Environetter. Daughter Nicole and her husband, surfer and standup paddler Garrett McNamara, are supporters.
McNamara recently made history by surfing the largest wave ever ridden by a human being, and believes in giving back. “Usually, whenever I pick up a paddle it is to go surf, but I gave the Environet a try and had the best time ever. Not only do you have fun but you are also making a difference! We all need to do our part!”
Macias and McNamara have traveled to Nicaragua and Portugal to share their message, combining beach cleanups and education programs with surf and SUP experiences for kids, but South Florida remains the epicenter of the growing EnviroNet Paddle Group.
Macias currently constructs the nets himself, and he is interested in partnering for production with a paddle manufacturer, but the core mission of the program is sharing the concept of environmental stewardship. Macias encourages everyone to, "Take what you need, give what you can." He hopes to make this type of networking cool. "We need to make picking up trash chic."
Marine debris accumulates from a variety of sources, and seizing opportunities to remove trash from our local waterways and shoreline makes a real difference. Each piece retrieved imparts a global impact.
Summarizing his motivation, Macias explains: "I refuse to accept the status quo of my playground being trashed by our system. I have to do something about it, and this is how I am starting. Actions speak louder than words. I'm just taking care of what I love."
The Orange Bowl racers returned to cross the finish line inside the marina basin. Bedraggled after battling the incessant wind and shifting waves, many had been reduced to measuring their progress one paddle stroke at a time. Sometimes that's what it takes to get the job done. —Tom Fucigna
For more about EnviroNet, visit the Facebook page.