February 28, 2011- Nick Engelfried
On Wednesday a group of nearly 7,000 people in the province of Camarines Sur in the Philippines broke the world record for tree planting. The giant work party planted over 64,000 trees in fifteen minutes, as part of a province-wide project designed to increase tree cover in the Philippines. Participants in the Camarines Sur tree planting now hold the official Guinness World Record for “most trees planted simultaneously.” The previous world record was set in India last year, where slightly over 50,000 trees were planted at once.
The tree planting in Camarines Sur took place on land owned by the government, which had previously been stripped of its forest cover. Conservationists hope that as the tree saplings grow they will reduce erosion and improve the health of the local ecosystem. However breaking the world record for tree planting is just the first step in an ambitious initiative the provincial government of Camarines Sur is launching to restore endangered forests. The El Verde Project, also known as “12 Million Trees by 2012” aims to add twelve million trees to the province’s forest cover by the beginning of next year, with an emphasis on planting native species.
According to the El Verde web site, the project’s vision statement is “For Camarines Sur to be the greenest and most environmentally friendly province in Asia.” By planting trees the provincial government hopes to conserve biodiversity, reduce climate change, enhance agriculture by preventing erosion, and improve quality of life for millions of people. Besides planting new trees the project also focuses on conserving areas of tropical rainforest still standing in the province.
According to the web site, participants in the El Verde Project are “working together in order to ensure that forests and their wildlife will survive for our children to appreciate, enjoy and live.” To make the El Verde Project a success, the provincial government is partnering with local government entities, schools, and non-government organizations.
The tropical forests of the Philippines archipelago are among the most endangered in the world, and are home to dozens of species found nowhere else. Among these is the “flying lemur”—a mammal with few close relatives alive today, that uses flaps of skin between its legs to glide from treetop to treetop and that can spend its whole life without setting foot on the ground. Other species unique to this tropical island country include the monkey-hunting Philippine eagle, the tiny Philippine mouse deer, and the smallest freshwater fish species on the planet.
When Spanish colonists first arrived in the Philippines during the 1500s, indigenous inhabitants of the islands had left the natural forest cover mostly intact. During the next five hundred years a combination of factors, including population growth combined with industrial logging and commercial exploitation of the forests, led to much of the original old growth ecosystem being eliminated. Today less than ten percent of the original forest cover remains, making the country’s forests among the most endangered in the world.
Years of deforestation have pushed many Philippine species to the brink of extinction, but now the national and provincial governments are mounting efforts to save the country’s natural ecosystems. The El Verde Project is one such initiative, which just might provide endangered species with the habitat they need to recover. In an indication of how seriously some government officials take reforestation efforts, Wednesday’s record-setting tree planting was attended by both the governor of Caramines Sur and the president of the Philippines.
Wednesday’s tree planting marked the kick-off of the El Verde Project, with the breaking of a world record adding excitement to the event. Much work still remains to be done for Caramines Sur to achieve its goal of planting twelve million trees this year. If the goal can be reached, it may spell a new and brighter chapter in the story of the Philippines’ endangered forests.
Photo credit: Trees for the Future