In true South Florida fashion, he flipped it six weeks later. Smith sold the island to Charles Deering, the wealthy industrialist whose lush tropical estate in South Miami-Dade is now a county-managed preserve.
Deering probably simply wanted to preserve the island, either for some kind of future use or as a small aquatic and/or wildlife preserve, says local historian Seth Bramson.
Bird Key remained in the Deering family until 1985, when it was purchased for $36,000 by two real-estate investors. One of them is Edward Easton, who describes himself as a silent partner. The other is Finlay Matheson, a grandson of William J. Matheson, the benefactor and namesake of Matheson Hammock Park, who owned much of Key Biscayne in the early 1900s.
I just thought it was kind of fun to have an island in the middle of Biscayne Bay, his grandson says.
Bird Key is on Miami-Dade Countys Environmentally Endangered Lands list, and Finlay Matheson says hed like to see it become an official bird sanctuary.
I think the highest and best use is to sell it to a developer who needs it for environmental mitigation, he says.
Mitigation is the process by which developers are required to enhance or preserve a natural resource to compensate for resources they disturb elsewhere. Matheson envisions selling Bird Key to a developer who would turn around and donate it to the public.
I think thats the right thing to do with it, he says. We ought to preserve as much as we can.
Without county protection and the benefit of organized cleanups, the island has become a magnet for trash. It blows into canals or washes into storm drains, then flushes into the bay and accumulates on the shores of Bird Key. Larger debris is dumped in the bay or breaks loose during storms.
Miami-Dade County collects about 125,000 pounds of trash annually from garbage cans placed on 12 of the spoil islands popular with boaters, a spokesman says, but there is no public funding for cleaning up private property. And, although littering, dumping and discharging pollutants are banned, there is no legal requirement for shoreline owners to pick up litter that floats onto their property.
Matheson says he wants to clean his island, but is hampered by the difficulty of mooring a big enough boat nearby to transport the trash. Besides, he says, a cleanup crew could spook nesting birds, and the trash serves the useful purpose of discouraging trespassers who would disturb the wildlife.
He has reached out to the Tropical Audubon Society for help, and Pamela Sweeny, who manages Biscayne Bay for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, says the state plans to get involved, too.
We are going to work with Tropical Audubon and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to begin conducting regular bird surveys that will be followed by a cleanup of the island, Sweeny says. We agree and have said for some time that the island is horribly littered and a hazard to wildlife at this point.
One man doesnt want to wait.
Brian Fox noses his little boat into a shallow cove at Bird Key and trudges over the garbage to a clearing. Even when I was a little kid, I can remember it always being at least this bad, he says.
Fox, 28, is a biologist and recently departed executive director of Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center off the 79th Street Causeway, half a mile from Bird Key. His mother, Wendy, was the director before him. She spent years rescuing injured birds from Bird Key. Fox often tagged along, and probably knows the island better than anyone.
Last year, Wendy Fox died of cancer. Her son now visits Bird Key alone. And he wants to see it trash-free.
It is common to see, on this island, seabirds that are entangled in fishing gear, fishing tackle, that become entangled in trees and are unable to move, he says. Or they become entangled in debris while trying to forage for food within it or amongst the debris. So, it is a serious problem for seabirds.
Solving it will take money. Fox says he needs about $1,000 to rent a pontoon boat and dumpsters and buy supplies. We have people in place who are eager to assist with cleaning the island, he says. Its just a matter of organizing the resources.
Winter nesting activity may mean the cleanup will have to wait until the spring, but hes determined to get the job done.
Fox points across the water to the city skyline.
If all those people within sight of this island realized its ecological significance, I wonder how many more would get engaged in local conservation.
He throws a sideways glance over the piles of trash and quietly adds, I think about that a lot.