This spring, Christian Torres-Santana, Terraformation’s forestry partnerships lead for Latin America, will head out to the small islands of the Puerto Rican archipelago to collect seeds from 16 rare cacti species. The invasive Harrisia cactus mealybug has ravaged these unique cacti on the main island of Puerto Rico. Torres-Santana is part of a group of botanists and entomologists now racing to save the species by collecting seed from the surrounding islands. This is only his latest collaboration in a career dedicated to preserving some of the rarest plants in the world.
Torres-Santana has worked extensively with rare and threatened plants in Hawai‘i and the Caribbean. In 2014, after nearly a decade as a botanist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, he became the director of the Doña Inés Park Arboretum in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There he led research, education, and conservation efforts for the native plant collection.
Torres-Santana joined Terraformation in September of 2020. As forestry partnerships lead for Latin America and the Caribbean, he helps forge collaborations with diverse stakeholders throughout the region — including non-profit organizations, governments, and private landowners — who want to restore native forest ecosystems.
Terraformation “has a lot to share, a lot to provide to the world,” he says. And opportunities for restoration are plentiful.Landowners and governments want to restore the biodiversity of ecosystems damaged by unsustainable agriculture, mining, and illegal logging operations. And many local and indigenous communities are deeply invested in sustainable land management and already engaged in restoration efforts.
Torres-Santana, who helped establish the first Forest Health Monitoring Program in Puerto Rico during his tenure with the US Forest Service, observes that agroforestry, and adventure and ecotourism are important economic drivers in Latin America. And native-forest restoration can help expand these activities.
But lack of funding, plant propagation technology, seed storage capacity, and forestry training hinder many initiatives. Terraformation’s seed banking and forestry tools can help get projects off the ground. And carbon credits, or income from sustainable harvest of forest products, can provide long-term revenue to invest in project maintenance or expansion.
Collaborative partnerships with local stakeholders lie at the heart of successful restoration. Torres-Santana, who grew up in Puerto Rico, says that the importance of human connection and a shared language cannot be overstated. These ingredients help build the human network necessary to energize large-scale land restoration.
Terraformation, Torres-Santana says, combines a unique and holistic set of skills and tools — including the solar-powered seed bank, forestry training, and access to long-term funding resources — that set it apart from other projects. “That’s where we can come to the table to bring this expertise to the landowners,” he says — building partnerships to fight the impact of climate change together.
Christian Torres-Santana is a team member on contract with Terraformation. He's been supporting Terraformation's partnerships work since September, 2020.
After nearly a decade of research on the science team at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Dr. Ruth Bone believes restoration begins with listening.