Director of Latin American Program
M.Sc., Biology, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
B.S., Environmental Sciences, Florida International University
Faculty at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV)
Soraya is a Conservation Biologist and Environmental Educator, native of the coastal region of Ecuador. She studied Biology at University of Guayaquil in Ecuador and has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences from Florida International University. Soraya has worked on conservation of biodiversity and research projects in diverse regions of Ecuador and Venezuela including the Galapagos Islands, the Andean region, Pacific rainforests and the Amazonian region. Since 2004, she and her husband Dr. Karl Berg have helped develop a long-term study of wild parrot communication in Venezuela established by scientists from U.C. Berkeley.
From 2010 to 2012, Soraya worked as Field Coordinator at the Community Science Institute in Ithaca, New York, coordinating and implementing the collection of groundwater samples from private drinking water wells for comprehensive baseline testing of gas well "signature chemicals" prior hydro-fracking activities in NYS. Currently, Soraya lives in Brownsville, TX where she teaches Biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and works as Latin American Director at Great Wilderness, a small NGO whose mission is to support protection and preservation of tropical biodiversity in South America. Soraya is highly respected for the community outreach projects that she developed while working at Jatun Sacha Foundation in Ecuador.
Soraya is interested in a diverse array of environmental issues concerned with the complex physiological relationships of plant and animal communities and their implications for natural resources management amidst the ever-growing demands of human society.
Karl Berg, Ph.D.,
Karl's interests in tropical birds stem from a decade in Ecuador that began with a study of seed dispersal in toucans. Food plant collections revealed an undescribed endemic genus of tree, now called the Ecuadorian tree (Ecuadendron). He then spent several years creating the first bird species lists for seven protected areas in Ecuador.
To document avian diversity, he created a collection of audio recordings as voucher specimens for a large number of species. One of the most endangered birds in Ecuador is the Great Green Macaw. Karl spent a year studying their movements in relation to food production, weekly monitored 100 trees, and provided some of the first evidence that larger trees produce more food a central, but until then unsubstantiated, tenet of forest restoration. He returned to the USA and earned a M.Sc. under Victor Apanius, at Florida International University. His thesis was the first to identify the variables that trigger the onset to the dawn chorus in a tropical forest.
Romina Ordonez has joined GW as our Regional Representative for Latin America. Among her responsibilities, Romina works closely with GWs partner organizations and communities providing coordination, supervision and support for current programs in Ecuador.
Carolina Izurieta Ponton, Santiago of Guayaquil Catholic University
Great Wilderness is excited to welcome aboard Ing. Stefani Izurieta, our new first Ecuadorian intern, for the Fonmsoeam project in Esmeraldas. Estefani is a Commercial Engineer, native from Ecuador. She studied International Business Management and Engineering at Santiago of Guayaquil Catholic University and is currently working as Analyst of Commercial Promotion at the Ecuadorian Corporation of Exports and Investment (CORPEI)
As an intern at FONMSOEAM, she will help connect its members to the international cocoa market in order for them to receive a better price for their product; assist farmers receive and maintain organic and fair-trade certifications; provide technical and environmental training to its members to grow their product more efficiently and environmentally-friendly; and diffuse the money gained from the sale of cocoa into social projects within the communities. Estefani is concerned with the socioeconomic and ecologic implications of the highly productive cocoa clon CCN51 aimed to boost cocoa yields in Ecuador.
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