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Marine Lance Cpl. Shaun Barefoot helps elementary school pupils Reina Ikema, Kyle Johnson and Malcolm Donato plant a tree Tuesday during an Earth Day event on Camp Foster, Okinawa. Okinawan youngsters from Chatan joined Killin Elementary School pupils in the planting of 80 trees along Stillwell Drive.

Marine Lance Cpl. Shaun Barefoot helps elementary school pupils Reina Ikema, Kyle Johnson and Malcolm Donato plant a tree Tuesday during an Earth Day event on Camp Foster, Okinawa. Okinawan youngsters from Chatan joined Killin Elementary School pupils in the planting of 80 trees along Stillwell Drive. (David Allen / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Color this base green — for now.

In seven years or so, though, it’ll be bright red. That’s when the 40 Royal Poinciana trees planted here Tuesday by American and Okinawan pupils for Earth Day are expected to blossom in deep, rich-red flowers.

About 80 pupils from Camp Foster’s Killin Elementary School joined 40 children from Hamagawa Elementary School in Chatan to commemorate the 33rd annual International Earth Day.

Under the direction of teachers, Marines and Larry Soenen of the U.S. Forestry Service, the youngsters planted trees along Stillwell Drive, near the base’s Kitamae Gate.

Just before the children broke into mixed teams, each led by a Marine, Soenen briefed them on what the day meant.

“Trees are very important for the health of the planet,” Soenen said. “There’s a close relationship between trees and people. We work together: Trees produce the oxygen that we breathe and we give out the carbon dioxide that the trees need.”

He explained that the trees need to be planted deep enough for the roots to take hold in Okinawa’s dense clay soil and far enough apart to allow them room to grow. The Royal Poincianas are fast-growing trees that, within just seven years, can reach heights of 30 feet, with thick canopies that spread 60 feet wide.

Tree-planting has become one of the most popular ways to celebrate Earth Day. The Earth Day Network estimates that more than 20 million new trees have been planted throughout the world as part of Earth Day activities.

The group is sponsoring a “Global ReLeaf” campaign aimed at planting one billion trees worldwide during the next five years. In the United States, the goal is to have one tree planted for each American by 2007.

The language barrier during Tuesday’s event on Camp Foster did not seem to prevent the children from having fun and learning about trees at the same time.

“I think Earth Day is important because trees and greens are important for us and also for animals,” said Reina Ikema, 11, an Okinawan sixth-grader, as she held a Poinciana sapling straight in its hole. Killin pupils Kyle Johnson and Malcolm Donato, both 10, poured in water and loosely packed soil into the hole. Lance Cpl. Shaun Barefoot, assigned to Camp Foster, supervised.

“I like big trees because they give me shades in hot days,” Reina said. “I want to come back here in 10 years or so, when I am 21 and see how big this tree has grown.”

She said she was a bit nervous at first because she could not understand what her tree-planting partners were saying. As she watched, Kyle and Malcolm, for no apparent reason, decided to name the tree “George.”

Reina giggled when she was told that the boys had given the tree a name.

Johnson, a fifth-grader, said he was glad he took part in planting a tree.

“Trees are important because they give us oxygen,” he said.

Almost on cue, Malcolm chipped in, “Earth Day is good because it teaches kids not to litter. We must keep our Earth clean.”

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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