FIU joins Miami Heat, Miccosukee tribe to protect the Everglades

The tropical hardwood hammock habitats in the Florida Everglades are under threat by invasive plants and animals, chemicals and toxins, fires and lack of freshwater.

Miami Heat shooting guard Rodney McGruder (left) and FIU’s Nick Ogle (right) plant environmentally appropriate and culturally important plants in the Everglades as part of Heat Glades Sweep.

More than 50 members of the community came together Feb. 3 for the Heat Glades Sweep event which included clean-up and restoration projects at the Miccosukee Indian Village. Under the guidance of FIU environmental studies professors Michael Ross and Hong Liu, local volunteers from FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society, the Miami Heat and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida planted Everglades-appropriate and culturally significant plants, including blue flag, swamp lily, pop ash, yellow canna and leather fern. The event sought to bring awareness to South Florida’s reliance on the Everglades for a variety of services, including water purification, storm and flood protection, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

“I’ve dedicated my career to understanding the Everglades, so the focus of this event is particularly dear to me,” said Evelyn Gaiser, executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society. “By bringing these organizations together today – the beginning of a hopefully lasting collaboration – we want to bring awareness to the challenges our Everglades face. Actions by all of us, no matter where we live, can truly make a difference.”

Volunteers at the Heat Glades Sweep event collect water samples for environmental monitoring projects.

Volunteers at the event also installed a butterfly garden with native nectar plants for pollinators and assembled picnic tables at the village. Under the guidance of FIU Institute of Water and Environment Director Todd Crowl, they also collected water samples that will be used for future Miccosukee tribe and FIU environmental monitoring projects. Javier Rodriguez Casariego, a biology Ph.D. student, was on-hand to help Crowl test-drive aerial drones to capture videos of Everglades tree island vegetation as part of another monitoring project.

“It was great to be in the Everglades and in an air boat for the first time,” said Rodriguez Casariego. “I’ve had other interactions with the Miccosukee community,  and it’s always great to see their interest and respect for the conservation of natural resources.”

The Heat Glades Sweep is part of NBA Green efforts to generate environmental protection awareness and funds. It is the sixth consecutive year SEAS has been involved in the Miami Heat’s community outreach initiative. In previous years, the two have teamed up for projects throughout the county, including installing butterfly gardens at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus, creating outdoor classrooms at Jesse J. McCrary Jr. Elementary in Hialeah, and building sea turtle nesting sites along Crandon Park Beach in Key Biscayne.