Student Launches Non-Profit to Help Protect Colombian Ecosystems

(Steve Raphael, Photographer)
Abby Raphael with dad Steve Rapheal on a beach in Costa Rica. The two worked together to launch The Mangrove Project.

    For the Raphaels, environmental service was a natural endeavor after years of traveling. Earlier this year, the Orinda family worked together to launch The Mangrove Project, a non-profit organization aimed at reducing the impact of travel-related carbon emissions in Colombia.
    The Mangrove Project ( allows participants to calculate the climate impact of their travel and to replace those emissions by planting Mangrove trees in La Boquilla, Colombia.
    Abby Raphael, a junior at Campolindo High School, who worked with her father and brother on the project, said they chose this tree because of its high carbon intake levels. Recent studies show Mangroves have the capacity to absorb a high amount of carbon dioxide when compared to other species. Representing a small share of current forests, experts say Mangroves have the potential to make an impact on future emission levels.
    “The process of creating The Mangrove Project has been really cool,” said Abby. “Working with my dad Steve and brother Zach has been fun and knowing the difference we’re making is the best part.”
    So far, local Boquilla residents have planted 220 trees, which calculates to 64 tons of carbon dioxide absorbed.
    Emissions are calculated using the Flight Free USA calculator. Users input their starting and destination locations and transportation methods to estimate the atmospheric impact of their travels.
    Partnering with the project and Rafaels is Alternative Travel Cartagena, a non-profit organization which promotes sustainable travel.
    “My son Zach and I were in Colombia over winter break, which is how and when we met our partners in Cartagena,” said Steve.
    Travel has been important to their family since Abby and her older brother were young, said Steve. He is excited to see his daughter’s interest in environmental advocacy through the project.
    “It has been great to see Abby really excited about the project and that she actually feels like she is making a positive impact,” said Steve. “It’s also been great to show both kids that if you can put your mind to anything, you can make it happen. If you have a dream or an idea you are excited about, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s impossible.”
    Abby said since working on The Mangrove Project and taking an environmental studies class, she has become interested in pursuing a career in the field.
    “This school year I’ve been taking my high school’s AP Environmental Science class and over the past few months, I’ve gotten really into learning all about sustainability and the way our planet works,” she said. “After my dad and brother went to Colombia, we realized we could make an impact there.”

Ania Keenan can be reached at

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