A Million Mangroves
I’m Will Charouhis. My hometown is Miami, Florida in the USA, considered by scientists to be ground zero for facing the worst effects of sea level rise. I’m a 16 year old student at Ransom Everglades, which sits on the edge of Biscayne Bay and is expected to be flooded by 2 feet of water by the year 2070. In 2018, after my city an neighboring Latin American communities sustained catastrophic losses from hurricanes intensified by climate change, I was inspired to act. I founded We Are Forces of Nature, an environmental youth organization working to provide coastal protection by planting a million mangroves; distributing relief to my own community as well as Honduras, the Bahamas, and Haiti; and raising awareness on the risks of climate change and how mangroves can work as a solution to provide necessary protection.
In the days immediately before the pandemic shut down the world, I hosted a young climate environmental experts group from Germany, Sweden, and the UK, touring them through Florida’s mangroves, providing an education on how mangroves mitigate coastal erosion, and exchanging climate solutions. I then spent the long months of the pandemic cleaning up mangrove root bases along the Miami shoreline, which is the least expensive and fastest way to regenerate growth. When Central America suffered massive mudslides after being hit by Hurricane Eta, I expanded my coastline protection project to go beyond restoring the physical barrier of mangroves, and provide relief to those communities whose receding coastlines left many of them with nothing, by spearheading a hurricane relief drive and collecting more than 1100 reusable bags of food and basic supplies. This past summer, when an oceanfront condominium building collapsed in my neighborhood, killing more than 100 people, our mayor asked me to bring the youth voice to a panel of experts who are investigating the causes of the collapse. I have been advocating for coastal protection through mangrove restoration, building setbacks, and increased greenspace. Recently, I began partnering with Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, in the hopes of expanding research on how we can improve success in growing and replanting mangrove seedlings.
As a part of my initiative, I raised awareness on coastal erosion problems caused by sea level rise due to climate change, and the solutions possible, highlighting mangrove regeneration as a path forward for mitigation in coastal communities. At COP26 in Glascow, I met with Peruvian farmers and the Ministers of Small Island Nations, including Fiji and the Seychelles, hearing their coastal concerns, and discussing the role mangroves and other adaptations can play in mitigating risk. In a closed meeting with Barack Obama, he had an opportunity to discuss the risks his home state of Hawaii faces, where mangroves are an alien species but thrive and provide protection once transplanted. I also had an opportunity to educate the benefits of mangrove restoration in panels with Dr. Jane Goodall at the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP26.
This project taught me that mangrove forests provide coastline protection against sea level rise, a support system for our life-sustaining marine ecosystem, a breeding ground for fish, and a green leafy forest blanket to absorb greenhouse gasses. Because mangroves can grow to maturity in 10 years, far quicker than rainforests, and because they have a large leafy mass, they are actually one of the best types of forests for sequestering carbon out of our atmosphere.
Youth today suffer from eco-anxiety. A lack of knowledge, and a lack of ability to feel like they are gaining some control over their own destiny, exacerbates climate-related fears. The beauty of this project is that everyone can play a role in protecting our coastline communities, without significant cost. The planting of new mangroves is a bit tricky, but one easy project youth can do is to pull a group together and head to the beach to clean up ocean trash and plastics that are clogging mangrove roots. This will allow mangroves to regenerate and grow naturally. If everyone in the world plant just three mangrove seedlings, or cleans out the roots of just one bed of mangroves, we can amass enough new forest area to absorb a third of carbon emissions, and reach the planet’s necessary goal of net-zero.
I will continue to provide mangrove restoration education, as well as work hands-on, because I want youth to know that they can channel their fear into action, and make a difference.