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Sustainable Tourism Part 2: Planting Trees

How to plant trees in a way that works

With the wave of sustainability efforts worldwide, many travel operators now offer travellers the opportunity to plant a tree while on vacation. Most of the time, tree planting will be coupled with a travel activity - for example, planting a tree during a trek. Though small, these reforestation efforts can raise awareness of the need to increase tree cover to reduce carbon emissions, and have the potential to make tangible, sustained impact. 

If tree planting is something you’re keen to do on your next trip, here are some questions to ask to ensure that your tree planting makes a sustained impact on the environment.

1. Are the trees used native to the area?

In reforestation, it is important to plant trees native to a particular area to ensure that pre-existing floral and fauna thrives, and a natural ecosystem is restored. The introduction of non-native trees into an ecosystem might not bode well with native floral and fauna due to a lack of compatibility.

2. Is more than one type of tree being planted?

That said, planting just one type of tree in an area reduces forest diversification, and in the future, biodiversification. Several different species of trees should be used if the project is on a large scale, so as to encourage forest diversification. Diverse forests hosts ecosystems that are less fragile and more resilient to pests and disease, as compared to monolithic forests. 

3. Who maintains the trees afterward?

Sometimes, the natural regeneration processes of the forest will encourage healthy growth of your planted tree, regardless of whether anyone maintains it. However, it would still be good to check if the local communities or the travel operator has plans to maintain the trees being planted, so as to ensure your efforts don’t go to waste. Also, it’s a good sign if the travel operator has put in some thought on the maintenance of the trees - this shows that they really care!

Photo Credit: One Tree Planted

4. Will the new trees drastically affect the existing ecosystem? 

This is the most critical question. While the success of any tree-planting programme is usually measured by the number of trees planted, in reality forest management is more complex than that.

For example, a drastic and major increase in the number of trees planted may disrupt the existing ecosystem. The increased demand for water by the new trees could bring about unwanted consequences such as the drying out of land and reduction of groundwater. With a lack of groundwater, land could become unstable and collapse, while the drying out land could provide kindling for wildfires to spread with deadly ease.

While it is unlikely that any one company’s reforestation efforts will be large-scale enough to wreak havoc on the environment, it is important to be aware of the potential consequences of any tree-planting programme, so as to avoid unwanted harm.

Who can I plant trees with?

1. Green Rinjani (Indonesia) 

Green Rinjani is a travel operator that conducts tree-planting for travellers that embark on the Mount Rinjani trek. The trees planted are native, varied and planted on land that had been surveyed for their climatic and geographic conditions, lessening any harmful impact on the pre-existing ecosystem.

The company also enlists the help of the local community  to be the caretakers of the trees after you leave, to ensure that the trees grow well and healthy, and that employment is created at the local level.

Photo Credit: Green Rinjani

2. Bali Taro Adventure (Indonesia) 

Bali Taro Adventures allows travellers that go for their ATV rides to make a stop and plant a tree in the jungle. 

While they depend on the environment to maintain the trees naturally, their trees are native and come at a low cost of USD $3, ensuring that you do not have to break the bank for a good cause.

3. Appe Kale (Sri Lanka) 

Appe Kale is a wildlife conservation facility close to the Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka. They carry out volunteering projects for keen guests who wish to plant trees in an area where they may be enjoyed by the wild flora and fauna alike.

For those who would like to do more than plant trees, Appe Kale also offers opportunities to help out with collecting data, educational workshops, creation of media materials and the building of structures.

As their volunteer programme is not live on their website yet, you may contact Linda, founder of Appe Kale via the email 2appekale@gmail.com if you are interested. 

4. Make a Difference Travel (Philippines) 

In the Philippines, travel company Make A Difference (MAD) Travel hosts a tree-planting programme with the indigenous Aetas people up in the mountainous regions. Travellers are welcome to help plant a tree in an area previously forested - a forest since wiped away by a volcanic eruption.

The tree species chosen for the task are native to the area, and are able to suffice on little water, thus posing less of a threat threat to groundwater levels. Planting of the trees is also staggered, resulting in trees in various growth stages over time, so as to prevent drastic changes to the local ecosystem.

Furthermore, as the local Aetas community is bonded to their forest, there is no question as to who will maintain the trees after they’ve been planted by passing travellers.

MAD’s impact in the Philippines. Photo Credit: MAD

Tree Caretakers under MAD Travel. Photo credit: MAD Travel, Philippines

If you don’t particularly enjoy getting your hands dirty, but still want to contribute, these organisations will plant the trees for you!

1. TreeTribe

TreeTribe plants a tree in Indonesia for every Eco Water Bottle or Handmade Leaf Leather product sold. This is a great and sustainable way to contribute, as you will be helping out not only with habitat loss, but with reducing plastic waste and leather use. 

2. One Tree Planted

Photo Credit: One Tree Planted

One Tree Planted is an environmental charity pledging to fight climate change with their reforestation efforts. They plant a tree for every dollar donated, or every product purchased from their gift shop. You can also choose where to plant your tree, and how many to plant. 

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