After Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida in September 2017, Theo Quenee was struck by the devastation caused by the storm. He was particularly interested in the impact the storm had on mangroves.
Mangroves are groups of trees and shrubs that live with their roots submerged in water. They play a critical role in the environment, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They stabilize the coastline, helping to reduce erosion from storm surges, waves, tides and currents. Their complex root system attracts fish and other creatures that find food and shelter from predators.
"After the hurricane there was a massive amount of [mangrove] seedlings mixed within the seaweed/debris mixture," the 18-year-old from Miami tells MNN. "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."
Quenee had grown two mangroves successfully before, but now he began to grow them with a purpose. He began picking up hurricane-ravaged mangroves from streets and parking lots. He separated the plants into recycled yogurt bins, counted them, and began the serious undertaking of growing hundreds of plants.
"I live in an area with a lot of trees, so the roof of my house was the only place that got the sunlight. I started with all 524 of them all at once," he says.
"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."
Planting the mangroves
About seven months later, the mangrove plants were big enough to transplant. With the help of some friends, Quenee began hauling the hundreds of plants to a sand bar/mud flat that he had visited many times in Miami.
"Some officials passed me when I was planting them, and they were so happy to see me doing this," Quenee says. He's in the process of getting any additional permits necessary from the county, he says.
"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."
This isn't the first time Quenee has been motivated to help the world around him.
"As a child, my Mom and Dad always pushed my sisters and I to love and conserve the environment," he says. "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."
Quenee, a freshman at Florida International University, freelances in photography and videography, and that's what he plans to pursue for a career. (Check out his Instagram to see some of his work.)
"But in the future I also want to change the way we consume single-use plastics and teach younger generations and communities how to properly conserve our environments," he says.
He's off to a great start.
Here's a video of Quenee and his friends at work: