Image by Marcello Hernandez

A passion for nature conservation

23 July 2019

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Professor Robert Costanza is a Chair in Public Policy at Crawford School of Public Policy. His research integrates the study of humans and the rest of nature to address sustainability and well-being. He currently teaches Special Topics in Environmental Management and Development (EMDV8041).

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Crawford School PhD graduate Marcello Hernandez combined his passion for photography and ecosystem services for his PhD thesis, and is now playing an active part in nature conservation projects in his home country, Costa Rica, and the broader region.

When looking for a place to do his PhD, Marcello couldn’t believe his luck when he met Professor Robert Costanza at a conference that was held just next to where he lived.

After talking to Professor Costanza, Marcello had his eyes firmly set on Crawford School.

“I actually met Robert here in Costa Rica at a conference that was next to my house. I knew he was there, I went back to my house, grabbed his most famous paper and got him to sign it. I had no idea he would become my supervisor then,” he said.

“I approached him and told him about what I’d like to do as a PhD. I was quite frank, and just asked him whether he wanted to be my supervisor. One thing that I’ve learnt is that sometimes you have to say it out loud – dreams come true. 

“Robert was a great mentor and he became a great friend and colleague. I learnt so much from him and I will always be grateful to him.”

With his passion for nature conservation that is deeply rooted in Costa Rica’s culture, Marcello focused his PhD thesis on the benefits people gain from nature. His endeavours were supported by a grant from Costa Rica’s Government.

“My thesis was on the economic value of ecosystem services. I chose this topic, because in Costa Rica, nature is very embedded in our lives. We’re one of the world’s leaders in conservation. And I wanted to contribute to that by putting a value on all the benefits that we get from nature. It’s a value, not a price, which I think is key to natural resources conservation.

“I got a scholarship from the Ministry of Science of the Government of Costa Rica which allowed me to come to Canberra. There were different scholarships, but there was one grant on natural capital, which was exactly the topic of my research.”

Marcello also had the chance to combine his passion for photography with his research interest, earning him a grant from the United Nations.

“One of the topics that I looked at in my PhD thesis is how people benefit from wetlands. I got funding from the United Nations to take some portraits of people who benefit from the wetlands. It was great, because I was communicating what I was doing for my research through photography.”

You can see his pictures from this project here.

Having graduated just recently, Marcello is already putting his knowledge on conservation into practice.

“I’m now working as an independent consultant. I have two main projects at the moment. One with International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) where I work with them on valuing the ecosystem services provided by mangroves in Guatemala and El Salvador. I also work on blue economy projects with an environmental trust fund called Forever Costa Rica – I’m coordinating a blue economy project in sixteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“For the project with the IUCN I’m actually applying one of the models I used in my PhD thesis. They hired me because they knew I had done this before. For the blue economy project, they needed someone with an interdisciplinary background of ecology and economics. Both of these are related to what I did at Crawford. I wouldn’t have been able to get these jobs without my learning experience at Crawford”.

For Marcello, coming to Australia and studying at Crawford was a great opportunity, not only in terms of doing research with the experts in his field of interest, but also broadening his cultural horizon.

“Being at Crawford and having this variety of cultures and people studying different topics made me want to not only talk to my colleagues from related fields but also talk to other colleagues that are working on incredible things at Crawford and ANU more broadly. Having that opportunity – it was a dream come true.”

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