Ruth Metzel, Co-Founder and Director

Ruth has a Master of Forestry and MBA from Yale University, and a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. In addition to working with the Azuero Earth Project, she has been a part of The Forests Dialogue, the International Society of Tropical Foresters, and the Governance, Environment and Markets Initiative at Yale. Ruth has written about Azuero in publications such as “Manejo de Nutrientes y Seguridad Alimentaria en Huertos Caseros Mesoamericanos” (2015) and “Farm to Forest: Factors Associated with Protecting and Planting Trees in a Panamanian Agricultural Landscape” (2015). Her field experience includes research projects with the Smithsonian in Panama, along with work in Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Peru, Venezuela and the United States. If she is not in the office, you can find her dancing típico, kayaking, hiking or in a “junta de embarre.”

Vernon Scholey, Co-Founder

Vern has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fisheries Biology from the University of Washington. He has worked in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, Washington State, Japan, Ecuador and since 1985 has been the Director of the Achotines Laboratory at the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula. Investigations at the Achotines Laboratory, a field station of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, focus on the ecology and biology of tuna. Research is carried out at sea and on land where simulated ocean conditions allow scientists to work with eggs and larvae provided by captive spawning yellowfin tuna. Achotines Laboratory also hosts a number of research scientists in other marine and terrestrial disciplines as well as University short courses and field trips.

Jairo Batista Bernal, Organic Garden and Tree Nursery Coordinator

Jairo Batista Bernal was born in Pesé, Herrera on November 30, 1966. He attended Hipolito Pérez Tello Elementary School in Chitré, Pesé Secondary School Middle School and graduated from the Professional and Technical Institute of Azuero as an electronics technician. Afterwards, he obtained a clinical assistant degree from the Technological Center of Panama. Today, he lives in Los Asientos with his family, where he has participated in scientific investigations such as native species reforestation projects with the Smithsonian’s PRORENA project, tree studies with Princeton University and the University of Florida, and as a field guide for sighting wildlife (such as the Azuero Spider Monkey) with California State University, Northridge. In his free time he works in reforestation, agroforestry and to maintain his personal garden and native species tree plantation. He is a founding member of the Association of Agrosilvopastoral Cattle Producers of Pedasi (APASPE).  Jairo is in charge of the Azuero Earth Project’s model experimental organic garden and tree nursery in Pedasi. As a part of this effort, he gardens organically, with ornamental plants and vegetables, and coordinates with the garden team, which includes staff and volunteers. In addition, he contributes his knowledge of native tree species in the region to other AEP programs and is responsible for the management of the Pedasi office property.

Gricel García, Projects Assistant

Gricel grew up in Pedasí.surrounded daily by the marine environment. She finished her secondary studies at Manuel María Tejada Roca high school, and received an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Limnology from the University of Panama. She has also supported her family, the Barrios Velasco family, in the collection of signatures to request the 2012 delimitation of the Pablo Barrios Wildlife Refuge and the request for shared management. Over the years she has been involved in diverse environmental activities such as beach cleanups, environmental conservation workshops, academic congresses on marine and coastal issues, and as a university leader and student coordinator for a social work project in Pedasí, which was successful at allowing her to bring diverse socio-ecological activities to her home town. Among her contributions, she has worked on various occasions with fishermen and youth groups in the community. She is currently coordinating a final project on the frequency of Stenella attenuata dolphin sightings in the Pablo A. Barrios and Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuges in Pedasi.

Karen Rodriguez, Office Caretaker

Karen was born in Panama City and went to elementary school at San Antonio school in Chorrera and secondary school at De Lecert Professional and Technical School. She worked in the Ciadeli shrimp farm in Vacamonte, and moved to Pedasi in 2006, where she lives with her family and is currently in charge of the cleaning and maintenance of the Azuero Earth Project offices.

Nisreen Abosido, Agricultural Intern

Nisreen is a student from the United States studying Environmental Sciences at Wellesley College. She is interested in organic and sustainable methods of agriculture. At the Azuero Earth Project, she is researching and experimenting with various organic agricultural techniques in the garden. Moreover, Nisreen likes to hike in the mountains, travel, and write.

Sarah Metzel, Grant-writing and Reforestation Intern

Sarah is pursuing an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States. In the past, she has worked as a student newspaper editor and public park steward. As an A.E.P. intern, her duties include writing grant proposals, publishing website content, photographing official A.E.P. events, and planting trees in the reforestation program. The idea of helping to reforest the Azuero Peninsula — one of Central America’s most threatened areas of dry forest — is a mission close to her heart. In her free time, Sarah enjoys reading novels, and dancing Salsa and Bachata with her university Latin dance team.

Louis Batailler, Reforestation Intern

Luis entered into the BTS program for management and protection of nature in 2016. He has done different works of restoration of heritage in different places. He has worked with professionals who have worked at the center of environmental initiatives. From these experts he has learned many key skills in environmental restoration. A core area has been learning how to manage and protect a species by maintaining an area of land for it to prosper. During different trips, Louis also learned from nature animators about how to communicate safety rules to the public to ensure the security of people and the environment. He has also learned how to devise a regulation protocol regarding certain species.

Xavier Laureau, Reforestation Intern

Xavier has obtained his scientific baccalaureate in specialty science and earth sciences from the Eiffel Institute in Dijon, France. He entered BTS for the management and protection of nature in 2016. During this year, he practiced several activities dealing with stewardship, restoration, and protection of the environment. Afterwards, he was in contact with professionals to reopen a means for the development of species of protected orchids. During trips, he worked with nature animators to teach safety rules to the public.