On a hot, cloudless day in April 2014, Nadia Sultan tromped along behind her classmates on a field trip. Just 13 at the time, she was in the middle of the Everglades, face-to-face with a sight that horrified her — a dead bird whose cause of death was a visibly ingested piece of plastic.
That day, she went home and researched the effects of human garbage, and shortly after participated in a variety of events geared towards eliminating pollution — but she wasn’t satisfied.
Nadia decided that that the best way she could contribute to saving the environment would be by creating an organization of her own. So in August 2014, she founded We Are Nature — affectionately known as WAN — a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to correct and prevent the damage humans have inflicted on or may cause to the environment.
Beaches in Miami, often the victims of unattached tourists and careless natives, are covered in trash that can find its way into the ocean and the creatures that live in it, and into animals around the beach.
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“If we didn’t collect it, the trash we’ve pick up would have ended up in the ocean, killing thousands of marine species, contaminating the water, and destroying ecosystems,” said Nadia, now 16 and a rising senior at MAST Academy.
With an average of one large clean-up event every month, WAN manages to pick up roughly 700 pounds of trash with the help of volunteers, mostly teenaged, whose numbers continue to grow. While WAN’s first event drew only 15 people, the most recent event had more than 80 do-good garbage collectors.
“The fact that we can pick up 700 pounds of trash in three hours is incredible, but it’s also scary to know that that much is just lying around,” Nadia said.
Though the organization has not yet celebrated its first anniversary, WAN has skyrocketed to success, thanks to the dedication of Nadia and her team, the involvement of volunteers and the use of their Instagram page.
“Working with We Are Nature has helped me realize how serious the issue of pollution is and how many marine animals die every day because of pollution,” said Alexandra Romero, 17, a classmate at Mast Academy, who has participated in five cleanups. “I now try to clean up any trash I see and encourage other to do the same in order to help our environment. It is important to educate people on the effects of pollution since most people litter without thinking about the harming consequences.”
To spread the word about We Are Nature and the cleanups, Nadia often hands out flyers at different locations, such as Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove, and different neighborhoods in and around Miami.
We Are Nature’s Instagram page, which Nadia manages, has more than 1,000 followers. She posts photos of nature which she has taken as she travels around South Florida. The page is handily used when preparing for the next clean up, and the photos attract many new volunteers.
Social media, sometimes a distraction or vice for teenagers, is put to excellent use by Nadia, for her pro-social and environmental cause. She imagines that We Are Nature could not have nearly the following it does without the reach of Instagram.
In addition to their beach cleanups, WAN also sells handmade jewelry every Saturday to support the cost of necessary items like trash bags and gloves, and to fund a related project to save sea turtles.
The money collected for the Save the Sea Turtles project will be used to buy flipper tags for the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Flipper tags are used to track turtles once they leave their nests, which can give vital information about their migratory patterns, and in turn, where their protection is needed.
In a world where many are content to sit idly by while the environment shoulders their burden, Sultan is preoccupied with making sure her mark on the world is a positive one.
“Starting We Are Nature has really opened my eyes to the issue of littering on beaches, and every event we do, I get to meet really great people, and interact with fantastic volunteers. WAN has become like a child to me,” Nadia said.
If you go
We Are Nature’s next event will take place Saturday, July 25. To sign up or for more information, go to wearenature.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We Are Nature can also be reached at 305-812-5336. It can be found on Instagram as @we.are.nature. The event is open to people of all ages; water and snacks will be provided.