Sean Bignami was taking his usual Sunday-afternoon jog through Virginia Key when his jaw dropped at what he saw: Covering the usually pristine island was a sea of garbage, swirling over protected dunes and floating away into Bear Cut. Bignami quickly realized that revelers at the Nine Mile Music Festival had trashed the place the night before. And more than 12 hours later, organizers still hadn't begun collecting the waste.
"Trash was piling up the sides of this ecologically sensitive area," Bignami tells Riptide.
Bignami, a PhD candidate at the nearby Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, eventually organized a group of students to bag the garbage. Now he's asking why the city won't levy a big fine against the festival organizers or even ban them from returning.
"City officials should be taking care of this," he says.
Guy Forchion, executive director of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, admits trash was a problem after the festival. But he says a combination of factors, including an unusually windy weekend, were mostly to blame rather than city planners or festival organizers.
"I was hopeful the entire event would be cleaned up by the end of Sunday, and that didn't happen," Forchion says. "That part was a disappointment."
The Nine Mile Music Festival is an annual reggae concert started 20 years ago by Cedella Marley Booker; its location has bounced around over the years, but the past two editions have been staged on Virginia Key. Last Saturday's fest drew more than 10,000 concertgoers to see headliners Stephen, Damian, and Julian Marley.
(Festival organizers didn't return a phone call or an email from Riptide for comment; we'll update the post if we hear back.) Update: A spokesman for the festival forwarded Riptide a statement that points out the festival collects canned food to support needy families, and lays the blame for the trash pileup on the company hired to take care of the cleanup. We've included the full letter at the end of the post.
After the concert ended at 2 a.m. Sunday, those fans left thousands of pieces of garbage in the park. The vast majority of the trash was still there when Bignami jogged through at 5:30 p.m. and was still covering the protected dunes nearby on Monday morning, when Bignami took a group of Rosenstiel students out to clean up.
"I realized I shouldn't be complaining about this without being willing to go out and help clean it up," says Bignami, who also shot off emails to Forchion, city officials, and local TV stations.
In two hours, his crew collected two dozen 39-gallon bags of garbage off the dunes:
Although cleaning crews from the festival were at the site Sunday and Monday, Bigmani says they told him it was too windy to effectively clean up. But as the wind blew, pounds of garbage ended up in Biscayne Bay.
"We have people here who study the effects of marine trash and the impact it has on local ecosystems," Bignami says.
Bignami has asked Forchion to fine Nine Mile's organizers and to consider banning them from the park next year.
Forchion tells Riptide that, while no fine is planned, a portion of the festival's security deposit will be withheld over the late trash pickup. He says there are no plans to ban the festival from the park, but he's already considering how to avoid a similar situation next year.
"Right off the bat, we're going to have more garbage cans, and we're going to push forward the theme that you need to put your trash into the cans and not on the ground," he says.
Bignami sees another, larger problem, though. Until he sent his complaint to Riptide, no one else in Miami would give him the time of day for what he sees as a serious attack on Miami's greatest resource: it's natural marine ecosystems.
"Why is there this apathy in Miami toward these problems?" he asks. "We're surrounded by these great environments, yet no one gets outraged when someone blatantly damages them like this."
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Dear Mr. Bignami:
First let us state that we share your concerns regarding the trash situation on Virginia Key Beach. The Festival is a humanitarian as well as entertainment event and we have raised millions of cans of food over the years to feed those less fortunate than ourselves throughout South Florida and the Caribbean. It is not our intent to create other problems while we work on solutions to address our mission. We have always been caring members of our community.
It is also our concern in planning the Festival to look at all aspects of the event and that includes clean-up. An event like ours is a large gathering and has an effect on its location. We made sure there were large numbers of trash receptacles spread around the event and worked closely with the Beach Administration to hire the proper companies to take care of trash pick-up and the clean-up of the grounds.
What you are telling me is that the Company that we paid thousands of dollars to for handling this facet of the event did not do their job properly. This is unacceptable to us as well. We followed all the rules and the guidelines that were mandated to us and even hired a Company that was approved by Virginia Beach to handle the job. We obviously paid good money for a job that was not handled correctly.
We thank you for bringing this matter to our attention and would like to join you in bringing a solution to this problem. We need to hold the Company charged with this duty responsible to complete their job properly, especially since they were an approved company and well paid to handle this assignment. When they do a bad job, it not only reflects on them, but on those that hire them and this is something we cannot accept.
Please feel free to contact us so we can discuss how we can help to address this situation in the future. We look forward to hearing from you.
Nine Mile Music Festival