It was arguably the most impressively unsuccessful tree planting project ever. Definitely the quickest. On March 8, 2012, in just one frantic hour of work, teams of local volunteers in the Camarines Sur province on the Filipino island of Luzon planted more than a million mangrove seedlings in the mud along the coast. For the governor’s ongoing attempts to make the province more environmentally friendly, it was a tremendous success. An official adjudicator from Guinness World Records announced that no one had ever planted as many trees in as little time during a hurried ceremony on dry land and gave the governor a certificate proclaiming the world record. Numerous headlines soon followed.
Look at the seashore today, where the majority of the trees were planted. The mangroves that should be nearing maturity after ten years of growth are nowhere to be seen. Fewer than 2% of them have survived, according to an on-the-ground study conducted by Dominic Wodehouse, a British mangrove restoration researcher at Bangor University in Wales, and published in 2020. The remaining 98% were either dead or washed away.
I traversed the entire site on foot, by boat, and in the water. The only reason the survivors were able to hold on was because they were hidden behind a sandbank at the river’s mouth. This year, a mangrove rehabilitation specialist submitted a letter to the Guinness inspectors that, under the condition of confidentiality, he shared with Yale Environment 360. He claimed that everything else had vanished. He wrote that the result was completely foreseeable. The muddy planting locations were washed by storms and waves, and they were environmentally unsuitable for the establishment of mangroves because they are too waterlogged and lack oxygen.
Jim Enright, a former Asia coordinator for the US-based organisation Mangrove Action Project, concurs that it was a total disaster. However, no one from Guinness or the supporters of record-planting that we are aware of has done any follow-up monitoring. Inquiries for comment have gone unanswered by Guinness.
Debacles like this are common.
They are surprisingly frequent, according to forest scientists, and they caution that failed afforestation projects worldwide threaten to undermine efforts to make planting a credible method of halting climate change by lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide levels or producing carbon credits that can be sold to businesses to offset their emissions.
In a different well-known instance, in the central province of Orum in November 2019, the Turkish government claimed to have planted 300,000 more trees on dry land than anyone else in a single hour. It broke a record that had been set four years earlier in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which was also verified by Guinness inspectors. On National Afforestation Day, volunteers planted 11 million trees at 2,000 locations throughout Turkey. The orum planting was one of those activities. Recep Tayyip Erdoan, the president, was one of those using a spade.