Our first full day in the Dominican Republic was spent on a gorgeous beach, but not in a sit-in-a-bikini and get-300-pages-deep-in-a-novel kind of way that I’m used to (and frankly, really good at). I was in the DR with Fathom, a new cruise line under Carnival which takes travelers to the DR from Miami for a few days of impact activities working with local organizations. To learn more about my experience with Fathom or if you want to plant trees in the Dominican Republic, too – read this post before continuing on.
We were on Playa Long Beach in Puerto Plata, to plant trees that day with IDDI, Dominican Institute for Integral Development, Inc. Tourism is the number-one industry in the Dominican Republic and lots of natural resources are used to support it. Think about all the trees that are cleared to make room for the mega-luxury resorts that line the shores of resort areas and about the amount of garbage that is produced because of the construction and from all the visitors.
I’ve always been in favor of the environment, though admittedly, it’s easy to allow convenience to take over – I am responsible for many Starbucks cups being used in order to write this website, for example. But I did start the recycling program at my first job out of college, where 800 employees were just throwing their cans and bottles out in the garbage each day, so I feel good about it to this day. And now I can feel good about planting trees on a beach in the Dominican Republic and work to drink a little less Starbucks.
We were planting sea grape trees that day, which enjoy being in the sun, so this particular beach was a good spot for them. These trees are salt- and wind-resistant and, when a little taller (they can grow to 30 feet high!), will prevent sand erosion, protect the dunes, and provide shade to locals and wildlife. Sea grape trees also provide the sea grape fruit which is high in vitamins A, B, C, K, and beta carotene¹.
I hopped up first to plant a tree after it was demonstrated by our group leader from IDDI. It was pretty straight-forward, though a little bit later in the day I was informed that we should arrange it a certain way to allow it to grow in the direction that’s most natural for each plant. And I did realize a little later that I’d forgotten to take the plastic off one of the plants but couldn’t remember at that point which one it was. I’m sure the majority of the plants will survive and thrive because I packed the soil hard and I said “Grow, Little One!” to them all and drew hearts in the sand around some of them.
While not officially part of the impact activity, it was suggested by someone in our group to pick up the trash on the beach, which was pretty necessary in this particular location. We filled up 25 bags of garbage, which hopefully will inspire others to think twice about leaving their soda bottles and styrofoam take-out containers on the now pristine beaches.
Midday, we were rewarded with a delicious traditional Dominican lunch of red beans & rice (aka moro), braised beef, warm green salad, and ripe bananas in syrup. We sat at tables on the beach and got to know our friends at IDDI a little better.
After lunch, we planted more trees, collected more trash, and also gathered seedlings from a different area of the beach. These were lil baby trees, just a few inches tall, and we had to gently dig them out with their roots to be brought to IDDI’s nursery. They’ll be returned to this beach or replanted elsewhere when they’re strong enough to survive. I borrowed the machete that one of our IDDI friends was using, because how often does a city girl get to use a machete?
All in all, we planted over 400 trees and collected over 200 seedlings. Not every group is going to plant as many trees as we did, because let’s be honest, we were awesome, but let’s do some quick math. If just 200 trees are planted by Fathom travelers each day for the four days on the ground, that’s 800 trees a week. Fathom sails to the DR every other week, so that’s over 20,000 trees a year. That’s going to make an impact.
I loved chatting with our new friends at IDDI, digging in the dirt, seeing the gorgeous views, and feeling the sunshine. I also loved the island dogs who I knew I wasn’t supposed to play with, but since I was wearing gloves, I gave them a rub or two. I felt like I was playing again. I went back to my childhood days where I’d spend every summer day at the beach with the entire neighborhood and dig holes for hours, get covered in sand, and be forced to jump into the cold ocean waters before hopping in the car for the quick ride home.
IDDI takes Fathom travelers to work on reforestation efforts in many different areas and a variety of terrains. We had pretty easy soil to work with since we were on the beach and our trees were smaller so that meant more shallow holes to dig. If you’re taken to a mountainous area or working with a larger variety of tree, this activity is going to be a little tougher and maybe messier, but I’d think that would be even more fun.
I can’t wait to go back to Playa Long Beach and see how our trees are doing.
Muchas (x 1000) gracias to Fathom for hosting me on this journey. Opinions are always my own.