The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has announced the recipient of the 2022 Judith A. Towle Environmental Studies Fund Award. Established at CFVI in 2003, the fund supports studies and activities that address environmental concerns that transcend the boundaries of any single island or island state in the insular Caribbean.
The Judith A. Towle Environmental Studies Fund has chosen Christian Torres-Santana from Puerto Rico to receive this year’s award — an $8,000 grant to support his Field Guide of Coastal Native Plants for Nature-based Solutions in Puerto Rico project. His proposal was among 11 other proposals from Curacao, Haiti, Miami, St. Croix and St. John.
Torres-Santana’s goal is to raise awareness about the use of native coastal plants as Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for conservation and beautification throughout the Caribbean and to address new interest in native species for disaster recovery efforts that mitigate climate change.
“We will conduct a baseline study of native coastal plants in Puerto Rico to create a guide with factsheets of species by their uses, growing type and ecological functions to raise awareness on the need to start propagating and using them,” said Torres-Santana.
Judith Towle said that she and the other two reviewers saw in the winning proposal a project whose purpose and content are clearly linked to regional and international environmental priorities, including climate change and Nature-based Solutions (NbS), while, at the same time, prioritizing critically important coastal areas.
“The initiative also has very practical, applied applications for landscaping and beautification practices in the Caribbean as it addresses the over-reliance on non-native flora species throughout the region,” said Towle.
Over the past 17 years, Torres-Santana’s work has specialized in pollination biology, forest health, tropical forestry, arboriculture, urban forestry, biodiversity conservation (particularly rare plant conservation), conservation horticulture and environmental education. He is the owner and consulting botanist, horticulturist and arborist for Coccoloba Agro-Environmental Consulting firm. He is also the Latin American Forestry Partnerships Leader for Terraformation, an international forestry technology company helping to solve the climate crisis with forest restoration.
Torres-Santana has worked extensively with rare and threatened plants and natural resources management in the Pacific and the Caribbean islands since 2005. In 2014, after nearly a decade as a botanist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as the Forest Health coordinator with the USDA Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF), he became the director of the Doña Inés Park Arboretum at the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation in San Juan.
There he led the research, education, arboriculture, nursery management and conservation efforts for a native plant collection. He holds a BS degree in agriculture with a major in horticulture from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, an MS degree in botany from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, a nonprofit management executive certificate from Georgetown University, and he is completing an Executive MBA from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.