How This 10 Year Old is Growing Plants to Protect Coral Reefs in Maui

This conservation win starts off with an organization called the Coral Reef Alliance. Based in Oakland California, the non-profit organization collaborates with communities in order to reduce direct threats to coral reefs. Over the past century as the land in Wahikuli (which is located in Lahaina, Hawaii) was being developed, land based pollutants have been transported into the ocean via the watersheds.

A watershed collects all of the runoff water from an area of land that drains into the same body of water. Here is a really good animated visual of how it works:

Over time the watershed has been collecting what is called non-point source pollutants. These range from excess fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, oil, grease and even toxic chemicals. In this particular case, scientists have identified nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that are creating the problem for the nearby coral reef. These 3 elements are detrimental to the corals because they increase the turbidity or opacity of the water. This in turn disrupts the symbiotic relationship between the zooxanthellae in the coral and their ability to photosynthesize. This results in coral bleaching events.

Example of Coral Bleaching – Image Source: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

So in order to combat this issue, the Coral Reef Alliance organized a project to help plant native species that will help prevent the runoff from entering the watersheds and absorb it instead. Plants absorb nitrogen from the soil and turn it into amino acids, nucleic acids and chlorophyll. Phosphorus is also absorbed by plants and found in every cell of a plant. It’s key function is to transform sugars and starches during the photosynthesis process.

Diagram Source: University of Bristol

So each of those excess nutrients are absorbed and used by the plants. The sediment is held back from entering the water and essentially clouding it up by the plants as they mature. The more plants that are located in the slope near the watershed, the better as they help to hold the sediment in place as the water runs into the watershed.

Abby Rogers – Image Source: Coral Reef Alliance

One of the volunteers is a 10 year old girl by the name of Abby Rogers. She signed up to take home 3 of the plant kits that were provided by the Coral Reef Alliance. Each kit includes the equipment to grow 50 native plants. Once the plants are mature, they are pulled from the volunteer’s planting sites and replanted in the areas that need them in order to shield the watershed from excess runoff. Once Abby started to plant the seeds from the kits, she was having so much fun that she got 15 more. Her desire to help the environment and new found love of planting the native plants brought her to a total of 900 plants.

In addition to Abby, 100 volunteers signed up with the Coral Reef Alliance to grow 25,000 seeds into native plants. The organization estimates that 10,000 plants will be able to be planted from these efforts in order to protect the watersheds and reduce the excess nutrient runoffs into the nearby oceans. A HUGE conservation win! Awesome to see such passion in such a young kid. Well done the Coral Reef Alliance, Abby Rogers and the ~100 volunteers for their efforts.

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