Maui 10-Year-Old Grows 900 Native Plants to Protect Coral Reefs

10-year-old Abby Rogers has converted her backyard into a native plant nursery to help save coral reefs.

Rogers is a volunteer with the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), helping to grow native plants that will be transplanted at their stream restoration site in Wahikuli. The native plants trap sediment that runs off the slope and into the ocean where it smothers coral reefs.

Abby Rogers with native plant seedlings

Typically, CORAL purchases the plants and hosts volunteer planting days at the stream restoration site. But when COVID-19 restrictions hit and the group planting days were no longer safe, the team put a call out to volunteers to grow the plants at home from seed.

“I really wanted to do things for the environment, but had not found a way to really help besides not using a straw or bringing my own bags to the store,” says Rogers. “My mom read about [the CORAL project] in a newspaper article and suggested it to me.”

Originally, Rogers signed up to take home three planting kits. Each kit includes equipment and seeds to grow 50 plants. But once she realized how much fun it was, she signed up for 15 more kits. That brings her total to 900 native plants.

Abby Rogers with 900 native plant seedlings

Rogers has certainly taken the plunge into her first-ever volunteer project. “I have always been interested in the environment because I have always wanted to help the world,” says the 5th grader. “I spent seven years in China, where I learned firsthand about air and water pollution. Now, living in Hawai‘i, I have been looking for ways I can make a positive impact on the environment.”

Rogers is one of 100 volunteers who signed up to grow 25,000 seeds for CORAL. Since not all seeds tend to germinate, CORAL estimates that about 10,000 plants will ultimately be transplanted.

“She’s our most prolific volunteer,” says Larissa Treese, CORAL’s Program Coordinator on Maui and the coordinator behind the at-home plant growing volunteer program. “It’s so great seeing the next generation stepping up to save coral reefs—the amount of sediment we’ll be able to trap with the plants she’s growing will definitely have an impact.”

Once a volunteer signs up to participate, CORAL provides them with the seeds and instructions on how to grow them. Volunteers can choose whether to donate the rest of the supplies (soil, trays and pots) or whether to borrow them from CORAL. Once the plants are fully grown, the volunteer can return them to CORAL to be transplanted or they can visit the restoration site and transplant them themselves.  Abby Rogers waters her plants

CORAL has been engaged in slope restoration in West Maui for several years, using native plants and trees to restore Maui’s once lush forests and reversing the effects of decades of industrial agriculture for sugarcane and pineapple. The key to CORAL’s success is building strong local partnerships. The restoration project in Wahikuli is a testament to that, bringing together partners like Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, West Maui Ridge 2 Reef and Down the Hatch.

“The at-home native plant kits have been a terrific way to bring the community together and keep our volunteers engaged, since we can’t meet in person anymore,” says Treese. “It’s also helped us save the money that we would typically spend on purchasing the fully grown plants.”

This project is funded by Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

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