Stories in Massachusetts

From New England to Brazil

We follow Christian Marks as he takes on a new challenge.

Christian Marks
Marks: A group of visitors from the Great Rivers Partnership program partners visit a farm on the Sao Lourenco River, Mato Grasso, Brazil. © ©Tom Eisenhart/TNC

The Nature Conservancy ecologist Christian Marks has traveled several thousand miles from  Northampton, Mass., to Brasilia, Brazil on behalf of TNC, and we’re going to follow along—if only from a distance.

In Brazil, where he arrived in August, Marks will be using some of the skills he’s sharpened during years of work on forest and stream restoration in the Connecticut River watershed.

His objective: help synthesize scientific evidence quantifying the benefits native vegetation provides to neighboring agriculture, particularly in the context of croplands in Mato Grosso state.

Aside from building the business case for forest restoration, Marks will be developing landscape scenarios to guide reforestation efforts toward places where those efforts will maximally benefit conservation and agriculture.

For the 5 months he’s in Brazil, we’ll check in periodically to learn about his experiences and his work. 

September 2018

Q: You had a very busy few weeks before you left home in Massachusetts. How did it feel to finally touch down in Brazil?

The last week before leaving on a longer trip is often hectic. There was much to prepare because my family came with me. What a relief when we finally arrived. There are so many new impressions when one travels to a new country or city for the first time that I don’t know where to begin. Even before landing the impressions started. I was immediately struck by the colorfulness of the tropics. It is currently the end of the dry season in Brasilia. Much of the grass has died exposing the bright red tropical soils. In the city, there were more bright colors. Despite having lost their leaves during the dry season, the ipê trees were in full bloom. Their yellow and pink flowers brighten the many parks and avenues of this beautifully designed capital city. We never know what we will see next or when. Yesterday, I walked to pick up the kids at their school and left the camera at home, not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary. On the lawn in front of the school along a busy city street, there was a burrowing owl standing next to its burrow. From perhaps four paces away, the owl just looked at us calmly as if its presence in the city was the most normal thing in the world.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the photos you shared.

I tried to capture the bright colors of the tropics for you with my limited photography skills. The golden ipê tree is Brazil's national tree. It blooms at the end of the dry season when the trees are bare of leaves. The local parakeets relish the nectar in their flowers. The parakeets drop the blossoms creating a carpet of gold on the ground. Pink ipê is almost as beautiful. This pink ipê tree in my picture has some red mud nests on the branches. The João de Barro or "John of clay" bird builds these nests. These small cheerful birds are ubiquitous in Brasilia’s parks. I also included a picture of a termite mound from a city park to show you just how red the soil is.

Q: What sort of work have done since you arrived?

Making my way through the extensive Brazilian bureaucracy to set up the basics of daily life took more of my time than I would have liked in this first week. Luckily, the Brazilians were very helpful. I also started early on learning about the local conservation context from my Brazilian TNC colleagues. The planning phase of a project is usually the most important in my experience, and that is where I am concentrating now. I must confess that the challenge of finding win-win solutions for agriculture and conservation is daunting. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that we must try to solve as more and more of the world’s surface is used for agriculture to feed a growing population. Will any of our team’s ideas prove feasible? I hope that at least one of them does. I will keep you posted over the coming months.