Suzy Pappas, Director of Coastal Cleanup Corporation, at an NPLD event in Biscayne National Park
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NPLD Volunteer Spotlight: Suzy Pappas, Director of Coastal Cleanup Corporation

Between September 6 and September 12, Hurricane Irma carved a path of destruction from the Caribbean, along the Florida peninsula, and into other areas of the southeastern United States, including coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Her devastating path ravaged the Florida Keys and left a majority of the 173-acre Biscayne National Park unsafe for visitors. While the National Park Service is closely coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to clearn up parks damaged by the recent hurricanes, volunteers are also stepping in to restore these special places.

Suzy Pappas, Director of Coastal Cleanup Corporation, is a regular volunteer at Biscayne National Park, where she’s participated in National Public Lands Day events since 2013.

What were your early impressions of the event?
The event opened a lot of volunteers’ eyes to the problem of marine debris in South Florida. In just one day, we removed over 400 pounds of marine debris that had accumulated in a small area of the park. Many people did not know that marine litter can entangle wildlife.

Have these impressions about NPLD changed over the years?
We have become even more organized and are now specialized to offer volunteer opportunities on the mainland, in the water, under the water, and on the barrier islands of Biscayne National Park. Every year we draw more and more people to the event.

When you aren’t volunteering, what’s your favorite way to enjoy public lands?
I love to kayak the shallow mangrove estuaries in Biscayne National Park and to explore the coastline of the barrier islands.

What’s your favorite outdoor spot to visit?
By far, the sea turtle nesting beaches of Biscayne National Park’s barrier islands.

What’s on your bucket list in terms of a place you have not been to yet but hope to get to?
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Why is it important for people to take a role in caring for public lands?
People can make positive direct impacts on their environment in such small ways. If we take the time to make eco-friendly choices with our everyday actions (such as using a re-usable water bottle with tap water instead of a single-use plastic water bottle) and take the time to care for the environment, we can make differences. Removing plastics and marine litter from the shoreline, for example, can not only make it more enjoyable for visitors, but can also reduce the chances that birds or other wildlife will become entangled in it or ingest it.

What can volunteers who show up at your event on NPLD expect to experience?
Since this event is scheduled only a short time after Hurricane Irma passed through Biscayne National Park, we expect there to be the usual storm debris such as downed tree limbs and construction debris. Because Biscayne is located in close proximity to the Florida Keys, there may also be a significant amount of debris that has floated in and washed up from there… that might be anything from boating and fishing gear, to large pieces of dock and other construction materials. Our volunteers will experience a hot, sweaty, dirty day—and they will love every minute of it.

What is the most important thing for people to remember about NPLD?
NPLD gives everyone the opportunity to participate in direct stewardship of the lands that are owned by everyone.

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