Hurricane Irma had a series of devastating effects for the coastline in Florida. But when a local teen noticed that the impact on the mangroves had been considerable, he decided to act.
Theo Quenee, 18, always cared about the environment.
"As a child, my Mom and Dad always pushed my sisters and I to love and conserve the environment," he told reporters. "We would travel to Costa Rica for the summer to explore the jungles and beaches and learn about the environment. We volunteered with a turtle nursery and would help clean the trash on the beach and release the hatchlings into the ocean. I also love water sports, so I hate to see the place where I love to be the most littered in trash and pollution."
So when he noticed that the hurricane had ravaged the mangroves, which are the shrubs and trees that have their roots submerged in water, he couldn’t just ignore it, CNN reports.
These plants are important to Florida’s ecosystem because they help to reduce the risk of soil erosion caused by tides, storms, and waves. They also exist as a shelter for fish, who often find food under their roots.
Because of the destruction caused by the hurricane, many of the mangroves that had been ripped from the soil ended up being picked up and thrown away. That, Quenee said, meant that the destroyed trees were not going to grow again.
"After the hurricane there was a massive amount of [mangrove] seedlings mixed within the seaweed/debris mixture," he told reporters. "Everything was then going to be gathered and thrown in a truck to dump at a landfill. I realized that all of South Florida would ultimately kill thousands of mangroves in the clean-up process."
Afraid for what that would mean over time, Quenee decided to gather mangroves he would find in parking lots and on the streets, separate them, and start the process of preparing them to be replanted.
At first, he said, he had 524 ready to go. In order to make sure the plants had enough sunlight, he used the roof of his house.
"I knew a good amount about mangroves and how they grew when I was younger and in my marine science classes with Ms. [Christina] Walker at MAST Academy. I knew that they grew best with humidity, so I designed a simple green house with a big platter and a five-gallon bucket."
Then, seven months ago, the plants were finally big enough to transplant. With the help of friends, he hauled the plants to a location in Miami where the shallow water and the mud make the perfect spot for the mangroves to thrive.
"My hope in doing so was to create a nursery for all the sharks and fish that live in that location, but also help conserve the area from erosion," he said.
While the freshman at Florida International University is pursuing a career in photography, he says that the environment is always going to be part of his life.
"[I]n the future,” he said, “I also want to change the way we consume single-use plastics and teach younger generations and communities how to properly conserve our environments."
Considering he has already done so much to help the environment in his home state, we’re sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about him and his accomplishments in the near future.