Capt. Carlos Macias shakes his head remembering all the trash he saw every day running a sightseeing boat in Miami. It made him mad.
“These waters are my swimming pool,” Macias, a longtime surfer, said.
One day he put his stand-up paddleboard into the marina, grabbed a milk crate, a handmade scoop and gathered the filth.
“People said, “Captain, what are you doing? You’re crazy,” Macias said.
“The ones who are crazy are you guys,” he said back.
After cleaning the marina for a week, those people noticed the difference.
Macias still sees floating garbage while running a fuel barge for Peterson Fuel in Ft. Lauderdale and he has gotten even more serious about doing something about it.
“I see trash all the way from Roscioli to Dania Cut to Sunrise Harbor,” he said.
He and his wife, Rose, have long been environmentally conscious and involved in clean-ups, but Macias was still mad.
“I started with anger, but my wife said that won’t draw people to me,” Macias said. “My family told me to find a way to transition my anger to love.”
So Macias came up with a “loving” plan, as he calls it, for big changes. Big as in a ton.
Macias is cleaning 2,200 pounds of garbage from the waterways from atop his standup paddleboard (SUP).
As often as he can, Macias loads onto his SUP, either alone or with anyone who will join him.
He can go to any waterway; the trash is easy to find, he said. He puts a milk crate at the bow of the board and paddles with his patent-pending trash-scooping invention.
He calls it an Environet and he wants every surfer to have one. Macias fit an SUP paddle with a specially crafted net and hook. He unveiled the design at the Surf Expo in Orlando in January.
“It needed to be stealth for when not picking up trash,” Macias said. “I tried a chum bag first, but it didn’t have a hook and it was heavy.”
Now streamlined and light, he sells them for enough money to cover materials and he makes as many as he can in his backyard in Ft. Lauderdale.
“It’s not to make money,” he said. “I would give them away, but that’s not the way the world works.”
Macias is a an animated guy and he gets excited when talking about his mission. Nowadays, he really gets attention for the nearly seven-inch long beard that he refuses to cut until he gathers his ton of trash.
Macias said he feels more productive these days, less angry and people are helping, especially his wife, who admits an ulterior motive is to get him to cut off the beard.
“Paddle boarding can be boring, but I like it with a purpose,” she said. “Each weekend we get about 30 pounds. The 15th Street canal should be a showplace for Ft. Lauderdale, the first canal after you enter the port, but it’s full of trash.
“There are thousands of plastic cigar tips, thousands,” she said. “Each piece can be small and light but the miniscule pieces add up.”
While calculating their total weight of trash, Carlos let the first loads of trash dry, his wife said. “He reweighed it and we lost 200 pounds. I think he wants to keep the beard.”
With more than 1,600 pounds of plastic bottles, lids, bags and other trash stored in the yard, Macias expects to have a metric ton sometime in the next year. He plans to display the giant pile to shock people into action and shine a light of awareness on the problem.
Another part of his plan is educating people about pollution. Macias shares what he sees with others. He takes photographs, calls city governments, writes letters, engages environmental groups and students, and encourages other paddlers.
All the while, he reminds himself, as his wife suggests, “don’t confront, but engage.”
“This is a fun way to open people’s eyes,” Macias said. “I’d like to believe that if people were aware, they would want to do something, too.”
To see Macias without the beard and learn the outcome of the ton of trash, connect with Carlos Macias, +1 305-785-6834 and Environet Paddle Group on www.facebook.com/environetpaddlegroup.
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.