CHRISTINA GARCIA (Executive Director)
Christina Garcia is an outstanding conservation leader. With a background in natural resource management and marine biology, she became the Executive Director of the Ya’axché Conservation Trust in Belize in 2012. Her leadership has contributed to the strength, resilience, influence and impact of Ya’axché – now considered the most successful NGO in Belize.
Christina upholds the organization’s vision of aiming to achieving harmony between nature and human development. Christina believes in empowering her staff and enabling their creativity and professional development, and fostering the passion, dedication and morale of the team to achieve conservation and community gains. She heads a highly dedicated, motivated and well qualified team of expert staff, volunteers and community representatives. As a result of her considered and grounded management, the organization has scaled up its geographic impact and political influence.
Today, Ya’axché manages three critically important protected areas – the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, Bladen Nature Reserve and Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve – within the Maya Golden Landscape in southern Belize.
GUSTAVO REQUENA (Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program Director)
Gustavo is a farmer from San Pedro Columbia who has also been a Biology professor at Julian Cho Technical High School for the past 15 years. He graduated from Toledo Community College and then enrolled at the Belize College of Agriculture at Central Farm, University of Belize from where he received an Associate Degree with specialization in agroforestry systems. He then went on to attend the University of Belize from where he received a Bachelor Degree in Biology Education.
Gustavo spends a lot of time on his organic farm producing crops and rearing animals; and providing tours. He is passionate about resources conservation and the improvement of people’s livelihoods. As Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program Director, Gustavo is responsible for ensuring that communities are empowered.
Ivanny Oliva (Finance Director)
Ivanny started her career in the NGO world in 2009 as Ya’axché’s Administrative Assistant, managing the office and assisting the Finance Manager with the maintenance of the accounting system. In 2010, she took over the position of Finance Manager which enabled her to be involved in decision making. Now as Finance Director, Ivanny maintains Ya’axché’s entire financial system. She liaises, communicates, and collaborates with funders through financial and project reporting.
Ivanny has an associate’s degree in Accounting and Economics from Corozal Junior College and two bachelor’s degrees, the first in Accounting and the second in Business Management/Administration, both from the University of the Ozarks, USA.
Said Gutierrez (Protected Areas Program Director)
Said holds a BSc in Natural Resource Management from the University of Belize and an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity from the University of Exeter in the UK. Said’s education has lead him to pursue a management and research based career with major interests in wildlife behaviour, spatial ecology, landscape ecology and conservation and corridor connectivity. He has experience in protected areas management from his early career days with the Belize Audubon Society at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Most of his research experience stems from his position as wildlife biologist at the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize through a corridor project in central Belize.
Said joined Ya’axché as an Assistant Research Coordinator in 2014 with responsibilities in managing a long term Global Trees Campaign project focusing on threatened tree species in Belize and then transition to the position of Science Director in 2015. He is now responsible for the oversight of Protected Areas Management Program, which looks at the 3 protected areas managed by Ya’axché.
Elizabeth Dorgay (Science Director)
Beth holds a MSc in Conservation Ecology from the University of Michigan where she focused on agroecology. For her thesis, she worked with the NGO Paso Pacifico to examine the social and ecological dimensions of living fencerows as a reforestation strategy in southwestern Nicaragua. She has experience with research projects exploring native pollinators in urban gardens and cover crop mixes on diverse vegetable farms.
Beth joined Ya’axché in 2016 to oversee the organization’s botanical research and monitoring, primarily relating to a Global Trees Campaign project to improve the conservation status of rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii) in Belize. Now as the Science Director, Beth is responsible for the oversight of Ya’axché’s Science Program which includes the ongoing development of biodiversity research and monitoring and ensuring that management and conservation actions are based on sound science. Beth is passionate about supporting conservation in human-dominated landscapes, and is working to expand agroecological research and biodiversity monitoring in the working landscapes bordering Ya’axché’s protected areas.
Marvin Vasquez (Project Manager)
Marvin has a Bachelor’s of Science in Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize. He focused his undergraduate studies in avian community structure in two of Belize’s protected areas. He has been in the field observing birds and as a field assistant for a jaguar camera trap survey in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Conservation Biology remains one of his passion, but his work experience has lead him into project management since 2012. His work experience with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance in Bonaire, has honed his networking, coordination and communication skills. His previous work experience in Belize, prior to joining Ya’axché in 2018, exposed him to community-based organizations and good governance concepts for the improved management of grassroots organizations.
Marvin is committed to an integrated management approach of linking community outreach and livelihoods, protected areas management and biodiversity conservation. As a team and community-oriented individual, his coordinating experience with staff and community-based organizations remains centered at strengthening institutional capacities.
Marchilio Ack (Protected Areas Manager)
Marchilio has been working with the Ya’axché Conservation Trust for over a decade. He started out at the grass roots level as a community based protected area ranger and has since developed an impressive set of skills, including wildlife monitoring of a wide range of taxa. Marchilio has been both Chairman and Alcalde of his village in the past 15 years and have used this position to inspire others to take a similar path and to use resources sustainably.
With over 18 years of experience in wildlife conservation in Belize, Marchilio is now adapting his skills to education and training of the younger rangers to ensure that they have the same opportunities to develop. Marchilio has always recognized the importance of a ranger being fully committed to conservation in both their professional and personal life and he works actively to ensure that all staff have this same commitment.
Julio Chub (Community Liaison Manager)
Julio has seven years working experience in community outreach and environmental education at Ya’axché. He is responsible for developing and implementing environmental education programs, communicating Ya’axché’s work to communities, providing technical assistance to farmers and conducting socio-economic assessments in the Maya Golden Landscape.
Marcelia Assi (Conservation Business Manager)
Marcelia has an Associate’s degree in Business Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Belize. She has experiences in organizational internal development, market research, planning and executing of trainings and teaching at the primary and tertiary schools in the Toledo District. Marcelia conducted an internship with Ya’axché in 2017 and admired the incredible work of the organization.
In 2018, she joined Ya’axché as the Conservation Business Manager to develop and manage Ya’axché Institute for Conservation Education (YICE) – the sustainable financing initiative of Ya’axché. YICE includes EcoTourism Belize and Nursery.
Dianne Gomez (Finance Manager)
Dianne’s educational background intertwines as a business major with an associate’s degree in Business Science and a bachelor’s degree of Science in Management, which she obtained at the University of Belize.
She joined Ya’axché in February, 2014 as Administrative Assistant. As Finance Manager, Dianne works closely with the Finance Director to manage the finances of the organization and support projects.
Sayuri Tzul (Marketing and Communication Manager)
Sayuri began her conservation career in 2012 at Blue Ventures studying the mangrove systems. There she appreciated the fragile margins between sea and land. In 2016 she partnered with Wildtracks to complete her bachelor’s degree internship project on primates and their interaction with the forest. After obtaining her BSc in Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize, her passion for wildlife made her returned to Wildtracks. She joined the post-release tracking team and experienced the important balance between humans and nature. In 2017 she joined Caves Branch Botanical Garden as a Botanical Community Outreach Manager where she contributed to the Inventory of Epiphytes in Belize, a pioneer project.
All the adventures led her to join Ya’axché as Creative Conservation Communicator. Sayuri is responsible for developing and maintaining effective internal and external communications.
Eugenio Ah (Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator)
Eugenio is from San Antonio village, Toledo District. His childhood days in the forests solidified his passion for nature and the resources livelihoods are dependent on. He vividly recalls huge birds, such as the Great Curassow, he encountered on the road. He believes that natural resources, such as soil, water and forests, are not to be taken for granted. He has worked in conservation for 25 years at middle level management. Realizing his passion for soil, he established a cacao-based agroforestry farm, Witzil Hí which provides income and food for his family.
As Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Eugenio shares his experiences and knowledge to farmers within the Maya Golden Landscape.
Megan Lopez (Lead Development Officer Volunteer)
Megan holds a MSc in Conservation Leadership from Colorado State University. During the summer of 2019, she partnered with Ya’axché to conduct her master’s capstone research, which focused on understanding local, small-scale cattle farmers’ change in perception of jaguars and evaluating Ya’axché’s Human-Jaguar Conflict Program. Having never worked on wildlife issues before, this research allowed her to understand how human wildlife conflict fits squarely at the intersection of conservation and human development, a passion developed through past work experiences as a park ranger for the U.S. National Park System and at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
Megan joined Ya’axché in January 2020 as Ya’axché’s Lead Development Officer. Megan is responsible for fundraising and developing projects so that Ya’axché can continue achieving its mission of promoting environmental conservation alongside community development.
Erwin Tush (Agroforestry Extension Officer)
Erwin is from the beautiful village of Pueblo Viejo, in the Toledo District and speaks Mopan Maya Q’eqchi’ Maya, Spanish and English. He has an associate’s degree in University of Belize – Central Farm Campus in applied Science Agriculture. After graduation, he worked with the Taiwanese mission with sheep and goat improvement project for 6 months, and later, as an Agriculture science teacher at the Independence High School for 2 years.
He joined Ya’axché as an agroforestry extension officer in June 2019. He has a passion of working with farmers to improve the livelihoods of the people of the Maya Golden Landscape.
Oscar Requena (Research Officer)
Oscar is a recent graduate from the University of Belize with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources Management. He has a strong passion for conservation management and the protection of species and biodiversity. His early work in research and monitoring started in the summer of 2017 at Ya’axché; where, as an intern, he worked on the deployment of camera traps at several agroforestry farms in the Maya Golden Landscape to monitor the wildlife supported in the farms.
Oscar joins Ya’axché’s research team assisting in the on-going biodiversity research and monitoring program, which aims to better understand the ecology of species in the MGL and how to better manage them. As Research Assistant, Oscar assists in the effective implementation of Ya’axché’s botanical and wildlife monitoring and research activities.
Evarista Sho (Education and Outreach Officer)
Evarista has an associate’s degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Belize. She has volunteered at the Ya’axché prior to joining the organization. She has a passion for working with people and educating them on how to save our forest for future generations. As an Education and Outreach Officer, Evarista is responsible for leading the development and implementation of educational plans in the Maya Golden Landscape.
Amira Palma (Administrative Assistant)
Amira graduated from the University of Belize in 2016 with an associate’s degree in Business Science. She joined Ya’axché as the Administrative Assistant in 2019. As Administrative Assistant, Amira works closely with the finance team to manage the office’s administrative responsibilities
Miguel Coc (Nursery Technician)
Miguel is from Indian Creek and has worked as a landscaper at a lodge for seven years prior to working at Ya’axché. As Nursery Technician, Miguel ensures that the tree nursery is always stocked with some +35,000 plants and keeps monitoring them. He also does grafting of cacao and fruit trees at the nursery.
Lisel Alamilla (Executive Director)
Lisel joined Ya’axché in 2008 as the Executive Director. She was previously program director of Fauna & Flora International country program in Belize.
With more than fifteen years of experience with some of Belize’s most important conservation, development and tourism organizations, Lisel has worked as an educator, consultant, project manager and director. She has extensive experience working in southern Belize, alongside other local NGO partners and community organizations, and in collaboration with government and other national level institutions.
Committed to the principle of community participation and consultation, she values the importance of traditional knowledge and cultural values. Lisel participated in numerous advocacy campaigns that promoted the inclusion of community leaders in decision-making, especially in regards to issues that will have negative impacts on the ecological integrity of natural areas and undue economic hardship.
Lisel left Ya’axché in 2012 after she was appointed Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development in the Government of Belize.
Ekaterina Alexandrova (Operations Manager)
Ekaterina joined Ya’axché in 2010 after a background in research and environmental consulting. With a degree in environmental science and policy from Barnard College – Columbia University her past research experience focused on ecological contamination, particularly of groundwater, and its relationship to livelihoods and health.
As Operations Manager, Ekaterina oversaw all Ya’axche’s internal operations, including development, coordination between programs, and human resources.
Ekaterina went on a leave from Ya’axché in 2012 to undertake a two-year master of science degree in Conservation Leadership. The MSc is a joint program between Colorado State University and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Mexico.
Roberta Kamille Pennell (Operations Director)
Kamille has been working with Ya’axché since 2012 in various capacities. She started at Ya’axché as a Development Officer Intern, sponsored by the Conservation Leadership Programme. After 6 months of internship, Kamille was hired as the organization’s first Belizean Development Officer and was subsequently promoted to Development Director. As the Development Director, she was responsible to lead the fundraising drive of the organization to ensure the needs of the organization and its programs were met. Three and half years in Development allowed her to gain great insight into the operations of a thriving NGO and therefore, transitioned into the Operations Director position. In this role, she was responsible for the oversight of the Ya’axché’s internal operations including donor reporting, human resource and finance functions.
Kamille’s educational background includes a BSc. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Belize and a MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge. Kamille left Ya’axché in May 2018 to join Wildlife Conservation Society as CITES Coordinator.
Lee Mcloughlin (Protected Areas Program Director)
Lee joined Ya’axché in 2010 after two years in Queensland, Australia completing a Masters in Protected Area Management and consultancy work. The experience he built in directing the Protected Areas Management Program, formulating strategies for the management of the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the protected areas of the Maya Golden Landscape and leading the ranger team and science branch contributed considerably to his professional development. During this time Lee designed, developed, piloted and implemented holistic compliance management activities and built up a considerable network of government and civil society contacts to find solutions to the most significant conservation threats at a district and national level. Also of note is Lee’s leading role in the development of the needs assessment, curriculum and implementation of the Belize Ranger Training Academy. This academy, a part of the National Training Program for Protected Area Managers, trained marine and terrestrial protected areas (PA) rangers from 14 different PA’s in enforcement, practical skills and conservation theory.
Currently with Wildlife Conservation Societies Mesoamerica and Western Caribbean Program and Belize Program as Program Officer and Terrestrial Program Coordinator respectively, Lee is working on the scaling up of enforcement capacity and cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking networks and increasing protected area compliance in Mesoamerica, in addition to supporting community forest management initiatives and watershed management.
Nick Wicks (Sustainable Landuse Program Manager)
Nick joined Ya’axché in June 2004 as a volunteer for Fauna & Flora International to set up a biodiversity monitoring system. He had previously graduated from Imperial College with an MSc in Advanced Methods in Biodiversity from Imperial College, London before briefly working for the British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
His role soon expanded to that of a Programme Manager, overseeing the organisation’s protected area management, capacity building of field staff, conservation management planning and spearheading the integrated landscape management approach. One of his greatest strengths was in building close working relationships between Ya’axché and its partner organizations including the Forest Department, TIDE and the Ministry of National Security. As Lisel stated, Nick “was key in helping to establish Ya’axché as one of the leading NGOs in Belize”.
Nick left Ya’axché in October 2010 for personal reasons. He remains in close touch with many of Ya’axché’s staff and alumni.
Nathaniel Miller (Protected Areas Manager)
Nat joined Ya’axché in 2008 just after receiving a Master’s degree in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. With Ya’axché’s appointment of Co-manager to the Bladen Nature Reserve Nat filled the new position of Protected Areas Manager, where he administered conservation management activities of Ya’axché’s two protected areas.
Nat ‘left’ Ya’axché in 2010 to begin work with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, a network of protected areas on the six Dutch Caribbean islands. He remains close with many of the rangers, other staff and alumni of Ya’axché.
Rachael Carrie (Freshwater Ecologist)
Rachael Carrie joined Ya’axché in 2008 as a Freshwater Ecologist to apply previous experience to the development of stream monitoring and assessment in the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor. She has more than a decade of experience working as an aquatic ecologist in the private and public sectors in temperate and tropical environments.
Rachael ‘left’ Ya’axché in 2009 to begin PhD research at Lancaster University, UK with the aim of exploring scientific and local knowledge to develop bio-assessment methodologies for the streams of the MMMC.
Jaume Ruscalleda (Sustainable Land-use Manager)
After completing his BSc in Biology at the University of Barcelona, Jaume decided to get involved in Conservation through an MSc in Biodiversity: Evolution and Conservation (University of Barcelona) and an Msc in Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (CREAF, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona). He has worked in conservation related projects in Nepal, Vietnam and Belize, starting his work with Ya’axché Conservation Trust in May 2011.
As Sustainable Land Use manager, Jaume participated in both programs (PAM and COL), linking them through the use Geographic Information Systems and spatial data management. He was in charged of the on-going satellite based Land Use/Land Cover Change monitoring, which helped Ya’axché locate priority areas within the Maya Golden Landscape for the promotion of sustainable land use as well as for targeted Protected Area Management intervention. Jaume left Ya’axché in 2016.
James Lord (Development Officer)
James joined Ya’axché in 2011 as a Development Officer. He was responsible for applying to donors for funding to support Ya’axché’s program areas and also worked with colleagues to develop innovative project concepts. James has been involved in environmental sciences and plant sciences research. For his PhD, he developed an organic technique for controlling agricultural pests using green manures.
In 2012, James left Ya’axché to go work with Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), another Belizean organization.
Sergio Rejado (Project Manager)
Sergio graduated in Environmental and Agricultural Biology from the University of Navarra in Spain. He spent the last year of his studies in Norway, writing a Bachelor thesis in the ecology of the deep-sea shrimp. After, he has worked in Madagascar, Belgium and Kenya, in different roles and positions related with conservation and natural resource management.
Sergio managed the Neotropical Migratory Bird Habitat Conservation project, an integrated project financed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, helping the local communities to know more about the role birds can play as indicators of ecosystem health in their territories in the Maya Golden Landscape.
Sergio left Ya’axché in 2012 to pursue a Master’s degree in Europe.
Bridget Barry (Project Manager)
Bridget joined Ya’axché in 2009 after an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a member of the community outreach and livelihoods team, Bridget helped coordinate an OAS project that diversified income-generating strategies among Ya’axché’s target communities. Under the guidance of experienced community outreach leaders, Bridget directly interacted with the communities and shaped efforts to expand markets for organic agriculture in Southern Belize.
With the community management skills Bridget learned at Ya’axché, she was able to continue community development work in Guatemala after leaving Ya’axché in 2010. She then received a Master’s in Urbanisation and Development from the London School of Economics. She is currently conducting research in rural and sustainable development with the United Nations Development Programme’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
Erik Hammar (Marketing & Communications Coordinator)
Erik has been involved in practical nature conservation for more than ten years as an employee of the NGO Norrtälje Nature Conservation Fund and Euphrasia HB, a nature consultancy in the Stockholm region of Sweden.
Erik studied at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala and Cranfield University, United Kingdom. He received two MSc degrees from SLU, one in Biology and one in Agriculture (specializing in plant/soil science). He also received an MSc degree in Land Management (specializing in ecological conservation) from Cranfield University. Before joining Ya’axché, Erik volunteered with WWF Mongolia where he worked on a review of donor projects focusing on sustainable pasture management and improving the livelihoods of herders.
Erik left Ya’axché in June 2013 to continue working in practical conservation in Sweden, and also running a company importing organic bean and chocolate bar.
Tom Pienkowski (Development Officer)
Tom joined Ya’axché as a Development Officer volunteer. In May 2012 he completed an undergraduate course in Environmental Conservation in the UK, with a specific interest in the integration of social sciences into conservation. During the last few years he has also conducted his own 12 month research project in Jamaica and worked in Central America assisting on other academic research.
Tom left Ya’axché in June 2013 to pursue a Master’s degree.
Maarten Hofman (Research Coordinator)
For about 10 years, Maarten has been involved in conservation work, volunteering throughout Europe in projects focusing on a diversity of animals, ranging from large mammals and bats, over birds, to reptiles and amphibians. Equipped with a BSc in Wildlife Management from the Netherlands and a MSc in Ecology from Uppsala University in Sweden, he has been working on landscape ecology and connectivity modeling for the last 1.5 years in his homeland Belgium, before joining Ya’axché to take on the Neotropical Migratory Bird project.
As research officer, he worked together with the Protected Areas Manager to further develop Ya’axché’s monitoring activities, conduct ecological research and liaise with national and international academic institutions to initiate biological, socio-economical and archaeological research in Ya’axché’s protected areas and their buffer communities.
Maarten left Ya’axché to pursue a PhD degree.
Stacy Armbruster (Conservation Project Manager)
With a degree in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Management, Stacy’s past conservation experience focused on working with local land conservancies, developing baseline documents for protected properties, as well as creating and maintaining community gardens to promote sustainable agriculture and enhance the quality of human life. Most recently, Stacy volunteered with the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation in Ecuador, where she worked on several conservation projects, specifically involved with the development of sand filtration systems for practical use and application.
Stacy left Ya’axché in September 2013 and went to work as a school garden coordinator in Colorado, USA.
Gail Stott (Botanist)
Gail joined Ya’axché in January 2011 after completing a Masters in Biodiversity & Taxonomy of Plants at the University of Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. As Ya’axché’s botanist she focused on devising and implementing a variety of research, inventory & monitoring activities that help to document and safeguard the botanical diversity and resources of the Maya Golden Landscape. With a strong interest in the conservation of rare & threatened plants, Gail spent a lot of time working on issues surrounding rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii) – one of Belize’s most valuable timber species. While at Ya’axché, she also developed a 3-year project (in collaboration with the Global Trees Campaign) to build capacity for threatened tree conservation in Belize.
Gail left Ya’axché in September 2014 to pursue a PhD at the University of Oxford.
Patricia Cremona (Protected Areas Policy & Planning Adviser)
Patricia has five years’ experience of working in conservation at local and international levels, having completed a BA in Biological Sciences from Oxford University in 2008 and an MSc in Wildlife Management and Conservation at the University of Reading in 2010. Following completion of her MSc Patricia worked for the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK, where she was responsible for projects supporting the work of the international biodiversity conventions, particularly CITES. Patricia has also previously undertaken practical conservation projects in Indonesia, Cyprus and the UK.
At Ya’axché, Patricia supported the development of a Conservation Agreement with community groups in the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve for the sustainable management of agroforestry concessions. She also provided input into the preparation of project proposals and review of policy drafts, ensuring that the management of protected areas reflects the best available global knowledge.
Jean Linsky (Research Manager)
Jean has a background in botany and conservation science after completing a BSc in Plant Biology at the University of Alberta in 2010 and an MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London in 2014. She has worked on Neotropical plant conservation assessments with both the U.S. National Herbarium and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and has most recently looked at using field collected survey data to map the distribution of plant species within protected areas and assess IUCN Red List status.
While at Ya’axché Jean managed botanical projects, including the final year of the Global Trees Campaign (GTC) project ‘Building Capacity for Conservation in Belize’. She also developed a further project focusing on the conservation of rosewood (Dalbergia spp.) in Belize. She left Ya’axché in 2016 to work on plant conservation in Southeast Asia with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).
Stephanie Smith (Sustainable Land Use Manager)
After receiving a BA in Environmental Studies from Baylor University, Stephanie completed a dual-degree Conservation Leadership masters program at Colorado State University and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur. Her thesis research focused on exploring ecotourism as a means of sustainable income for a rural community in order to improve the management plan for their communal land. The study involved examining characteristics present in the community, speaking to other communities in the area that had started ecotourism ventures, and initiating a network of communication and support between communities, government agencies, and NGOs.
As Sustainable Land Use Manager, Stephanie seeked to connect all parts of the organization and understand the context in which the organization works. In order to accomplish these objectives, she interacted with and provided support to members of all programs in the organization, as well as community members. Stephanie left Ya’axché in 2017.