By Joanna Prisco, for Global Citizen

When Hurricane Irma struck South Florida last fall, it uprooted countless native mangrove trees that help prevent coastline erosion. 

But thanks to one local teen, a few yogurt containers, and a makeshift rooftop garden, more than 400 trees have now been saved and replanted.

Read More: This is Hurricane Irma: Photos of the Biggest Storm the Atlantic Has Seen

Theo Quenee, an 18-year-old Miami native, first spotted the uprooted mangrove seedlings scattered throughout his neighborhood after the storm. 

My amazing little brother has been growing over 400 red mangrove shoots he collected after Hurricane Irma. Today, 7 months later, he planted over half of the seedlings in a coastal area that had been badly affected by the storm, and I really couldn’t be prouder. from r/pics

“The debris was going to be picked up by the city and immediately it just struck me, all of these mangroves are going to die [during the cleanup process],” Queenee told

So the Florida International University freshman gathered as many seedlings as he could in his backpack and, after multiple trips, brought more than 500 plantings to his mother’s home.

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“Florida's estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests contribute to the overall health of the state's southern coastal zone,” according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, providing “protected nursery areas for fishes, crustaceans and shellfish. They also provide food for a multitude of marine species such as snook, snapper, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, red drum, oyster and shrimp.”

Read More: Hurricane Irma Left 2 Manatees Stranded. Then 5 Floridians Came to the Rescue

Using skills he had learned in marine science classes in high school, Quenee created a makeshift greenhouse out of recycled yogurt containers he tended on the roof of his mother’s home. 

“I live in an area with a lot of trees,” Quenee explained to, “so the roof of my house was the only place that got the sunlight… I knew that they grew best with humidity, so I designed a simple greenhouse with a big platter and a five-gallon bucket.” 

Fast forward seven months of constant watering and care, 400 mangroves remained and were at last strong enough to be planted. 

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Following the advice of NOAA scientists he had contacted for help, Quenee chose a new location for the trees to continue growing that is rich in soil nutrients, according to Along with a group of friends, he constructed a PVC pipe grid and replanted the trees in a handful of days.

Time will tell how many are able to survive on their own in their new home.

“The area I planted them in is pretty rich in nutrients,” Quenee told “It has good muddy soil and a good amount of water so I think they’ll be doing well where they’re at.”


Defend the Planet

This Florida Teen Just Planted 400 Trees to Save Florida’s Coastline