FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Jonah Basi may be 16 years old and a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, but he’s got a big vision for what he wants South Florida to look like in the future.
“I want to see huge green mangroves all along the seawalls that I know are contributing to that cleaner water,” he says. “A blue waterway that’s reflecting the sky and not reflecting the toxins and everything that’s in it. And a waterway that’s not filled with trash.”
And he’s not waiting for anyone else to do it. Basi, who founded the nonprofit MangroLife, is getting his hands dirty and being the change he wants to see in the world.
“This is the most important fight there is for me,” he says. “This is the topic of my college application essays. This is all I talk about.”
Heartbroken to see the constant garbage and pollution clogging the Fort Lauderdale waterway behind his family’s new home, he decided to do something about it — not just collecting trash, but seeds of life.
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Propagules are the seeds produced by red mangroves. Basi finds them floating on the water, and since last fall he’s been planting them, first along the seawall behind his home, then growing them in tanks and replanting the seedlings in pots as they grow.
“But those ones, instead of keeping them on our property we’ve always had the intention to transplant them,” he says.
And that’s how MangroLife was born. Baby mangroves, nurtured by Basi in his backyard until they’re big and strong enough to be replanted where they’re needed most — along the shorelines and seawalls, near ailing waters desperate for the good they bring.
“They’re probably our most important plant life,” he says. “Mangroves do so many things. For one, they’re a habitat for a ton of different local fish and birds.”
They’re also nature’s filters, absorbing pollutants and nutrient runoff from fertilizers and sewage spills that cause algae to grow in the water and kill seagrass beds and all marine life in the habitat.
“And the mangroves, since they’re traditional plants, they can take in that fertilizer and make use of it to stimulate their own growth while at the same time keeping the fertilizer from doing harm,” Basi says.
Mangroves can also mitigate sea-level rise and protect our coast from destructive storm surge.
“When you have tons of them on a seawall their roots can actually stop a hurricane-force wave from doing any real damage,” Basi says.
So Basi made some waves of his own, contacting city leaders and offering his homegrown saplings to restore lost mangroves. For Earth Day, Jonah and his friends planted the first 21 at Richardson Park in Wilton Manors
Thanks to Basi and his friends, a second batch of 28 young mangroves now have a new home at Coontie Hatchee Park in Fort Lauderdale, where Basi hopes they will thrive.
“They’re going to have constant sunlight, and when they get big enough, it’s a really great spot because their saplings are going to fall off and they’ll end up right along those rocks, which already has some naturally growing there,” he says.
Since this project began, Basi and his team of volunteers have also removed almost 1,000 pounds of trash from Fort Lauderdale waterways.
No one is more proud than his mother.
“It’s one thing to care about the environment, it’s another thing to actually do something about it,” Jessica Basi says. “This is all him. It’s just the kind of kid he is. He’s a very caring compassionate young man.”
It’s not work for Jonah. It is, in his words, his life mission. He says he wants to study ecology and political science when he gets to college.
“It makes me really proud and happy,” he says. “It’s a nice feeling. It’s kind of a little close to fatherhood maybe, something you grew is going to do something great.”