At Haulover Park on Sunday afternoon, a helicopter flew above a beachside gathering of several dozen people. The partygoers on the ground shot confetti cannons and erupted into cheers when the chopper unleashed clouds of blue powder from above.
The company that organized the flyover, Gender Reveal Miami, posted a video of the production on Instagram and captioned it, "THE MOST EPIC REVEAL EVER." But scores of commenters excoriated the company and partygoers for polluting the beach. Environmentalists are also criticizing the company for releasing an unknown substance into the water.
"The sheer act of dropping it from the helicopter constitutes illegal dumping," argues Marilu Flores, the Florida and Puerto Rico regional coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation. "It's dumping an unknown chemical or substance. What's going to happen to our marine environment now that it's in the water? Will an animal come across it, ingest it, and die from it?"
Laura Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade parks department, says in an email that organized events at county parks require a special event permit. The permits require organizers to become responsible for post-event cleanup.
"In the case of the gender reveal party, since the area was cordoned off, a ground reservation (to reserve a certain parcel of land) would have been necessary," Phillips says. "Parks staff was not aware of this event in advance."
Beach maintenance staff cleaned up the area, according to Phillips.
"Patrons have many types of gatherings on our beaches. Park staff and police monitor areas to remind patrons to pick up litter and dispose of it in nearby trash cans," she said. "Police can issue citations for littering, but, to our knowledge, none were issued in this case."
Natasha Tomchin, a North Miami resident who regularly volunteers at beach cleanups, spotted the gender reveal during her weekly visit to Haulover with her boyfriend and their dog, Bandit. She took videos and tagged Surfrider and other organizations on social media.
Tomchin says the wind blew powder and confetti across the beach and into the sand dunes and sea grape trees.
"I assume all that trash will get stuck there," Tomchin says. "Who's going to clean that up, and whose responsibility is that? That's not right. Have a celebration, but you shouldn't come to a beach, make a huge mess, and then just leave."
Charles Levine, Tomchin's boyfriend, took video of the blue confetti that littered the sand after the gender reveal was over. He says he asked a couple of guests standing along the sidelines who would pick up the mess, and they blew him off.
"They weren't the organizers, but the apathetic attitude was so indicative of the problem here," he says. "The company says it's a safe product. It could be harmless, but what if it isn't?"
Local 10 reports that the party was hosted for an off-duty Miami-Dade police officer. Video shows part of the beach sectioned off with yellow caution tape. Miami-Dade police marine unit boats can be seen in the water flashing their lights when the helicopter releases the blue powder.
Gender Reveal Miami's website advertises helicopter reveals, and its Instagram page shows several events at beaches in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, and Fort Myers. While several people commented on social media about wanting over-the-top gender reveals and helicopter flyovers, others criticized the company for creating what appears to be pollution.
Rafael Lopez, the owner of Gender Reveal Miami, tells New Times the "smoke bomb," as he calls it, is biodegradable.
"It's not harmful to any ecosystems," Lopez says. But he declined to name the bomb supplier or the powdery substance within.
Apparently in response to some of the negative social-media comments, Gender Reveal Miami posted a photo of the bomb's packaging on its Instagram story.
"All the products used in helicopter reveals are 100% biodegradable and non-toxic!" the company wrote. "Our intention is to create unforgettable moments for a family without harming the environment. We love and take care of the environment!"
The product wrapper doesn't have a company name on it. It lists the contents as cornstarch, "color powder," and "ingredients designed for food, drugs and/or cosmetics." The instructions say not to use the product near an open flame. The wrapper includes the words nontoxic and biodegradable.
Flores, the Surfrider representative, says "biodegradable" is a misnomer.
"'Biodegradable' is a very nebulous term," she says. "When you're putting something in the ground in the Arizona desert, it will degrade at a different rate than in a subtropical climate like ours. What does biodegradable mean in reference to the environment the substance is being used in?"
The Surfrider Foundation contacted the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about the incident.
"We don't want to be buzzkills," Flores emphasizes. "[We] want people to be excited about milestone moments in their lives, but we want them to do it responsibly. I think the most important thing is we're all residents of this planet. It doesn't belong to any single one of us. We all have a responsibility, especially to this baby about to be born, to make sure our water is clean, our planet is healthy, and our wildlife can have their own milestones and have clean water and healthy beaches to do that."
This story has been updated to include a response from Miami-Dade County's parks department.