Our Team

(photo above – Lela Sankeralli, Captain Martin Espinoza and the crew of the MV Adventure)

For the past 35 years, Lela Sankeralli and Sharon Neeves have built the non profit, Panterra Educational and Cultural Training Society, to what it is today. In 2021, Panterra Educational and Cultural Training Society (Canada) expanded it’s family into Panterra Adventure Travel Vacations Ltd. (Canada), formerly known as Panterra Eco Expeditions, and Panterra Geo Expediciones (Mexico). A new board of directors was formed and “Our Team” expanded to a unique group of dedicated people with an amazing diversity of experience to propel Panterra into the next generation.

The team goal is to steward our expeditions to bring recognition of our ever changing world and provide platforms of public awareness and education. One of the many goals is to exemplify that tourism can stimulate sustainable development and work hand in hand with supporting educational studies, ultimately leading to the conservation of biodiversity and geodiversity, while maintaining the traditional identity of the communities we visit.

Our responsibility lies in the careful planning and efficient management of tourism – to safeguard the natural beauty of the communities, sea and surrounding islands so locals and visitors will be able to enjoy this environmental jewel for generations to come.

Lela Sankeralli - Founder

I began my journey with Panterra in 1986 in Calgary, Alberta with a simple bird-brained idea; taking school kids out on sailing adventures that combined education and hands on experience.

I pioneered a new industry of educational programming at sea, and singlehandedly!

My idea of starting Panterra was born out of a love for diving and sailing which started with my diving certification at age 15. By age 21, I was a seasoned diver and sailor exploring the west coast of Vancouver and the Gulf Islands in Canada. I wanted to open the door for junior/senior high school students to have similar positive and impactful experiences as I did.

From the first official Panterra trip I never looked back. Earlier in my life, 1978, I visited La Paz for the first time and it was life changing. I fell in love with everything; the people, the culture, the land, the sea. When I left, my heart remained. I knew one day I would return to collect it. I did return, but have never wanted it back. My heart remains in the Sea of Cortez where it truly belongs!

Many years later… I reflect back on all the failures, successes and experiences we went through that has brought us to this moment in time.

I am is excited to have an amazing diversity of colleagues and Panterra students (who are now adults married with kids of their own) whose lives were positively impacted by Panterra. Our Team will help steer the course to the next generation of Panterra. A generation that needs everyone onboard to do their part in changing the course of mankind in a sustainable direction. For myself, this is the most exciting stage of my career.

Sharon Neeves - Director

I first met Lela and was introduced to Panterra in 1991. I believed in the philosophy behind Panterra and volunteered wanting to be a part of creating learning opportunities for the next generation of Earthkeepers.  The vision Lela had for Panterra paralleled my own values.

Over the years we have built a unique business that gave back to everyone. We have spent decades touching, even changing the lives of those who participated in the Panterra trips for over 3 decades.

25 years later, as I retire from my career, I reflect back on all the adventures and magical moments Panterra has brought to my life.

Razia Miller - Board Member

In 1986, I was asked to join the Panterra Board of Directors at it’s conception. I watched as the first brochure was developed on a Smith Corona typewriter that landed Panterra their first school contract. There were no cell phones, computers as we have today. It was all done old school style!

Reflecting back over several decades, brings back many memories of the Panterra antics Lela got us into. Antics such as helping to provision the boats with 15, yes that is correct, 15 shopping carts of food in tow for the multiday, school programs… week after week after week!

I have watched Panterra grow, impacting the lives of students as they ventured out on their own journey of discovery.

I was a Media Director in the advertising agency industry for over 20 years then transitioned into Office Administrator & Management in the corporate world in Vancouver and Calgary.

Now retired, I do not enjoy grocery shopping week after week, after week!

Javier Gaitán Morán - Director

I received my university degree in Engineering Geology (1975) and later received my Master of Science in Geological Survey Degree (1986) and the candidacy as PhD in Environmental Sciences Degree (2006).

I have lived in La Paz, Baja California Sur (Mexico) for more than 40 years and worked in the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS) as a full-time professor from 1977 to 2019.

As a retired professor in the Earth Sciences Department of UABCS, I have acquired a long expertise in studies and application of geotourism, geological heritage and geoparks.

In 2015 I started a collaboration as Scientific Coordinator in the Aspiring Geopark Huasteca Potosina Project (Mexico) which has the aim to join the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network (GGN).

I am excited to be part of the Panterra family as director of Panterra Geo Expediciones. Panterra’s objectives and goals are very much aligned with my own values of nature conservation and territorial identity.

I enjoy working in the field with the local communities helping them to achieve better levels of well-being through sustainable development initiatives and projects based in geotourism.

Stephen Gormican - Board Member

I have always had a close relationship with the ocean, spending my youth in Vancouver where I sailed, SCUBA’d and windsurfed.

Upon moving to Sidney in 1989, I had explored most of the Gulf Islands by boat, for work and pleasure. My professional career and training as an oceanographer (B.Sc. and M.Sc. from University of British Columbia) has allowed me to see most of the BC Coast from Sidney to Haida Gwaii by boat, and to be paid for the privilege.

As a consultant, I specialized in water quality, environmental impact assessment and shell fish aquaculture. I was the Chair of the Environmental Technology Program at Camosun College for 7 years and I am still an instructor passing my knowledge along to the next generation of environmentally concerned youth.

 

Shawn Haggarty - Board Member

Shawn Haggarty, is married and a father to two successful adult kids. He loves to travel and experience new cultures.

Shawn has been an educator for 34 years with the last ten years serving in the roles of Chief Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources with Elk Island Catholic School in Alberta. He has served in many roles in education field including the role President of the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta. His relationships in the education field and expertise in leadership, management. legislation and policies are an asset.

Shawn graduated from the University of Alberta with a Master in Education Leadership as well as a with a Bachelor of Education. For decades, he coached numerous school sports to the student in the schools of which he was either teacher or school principal. Shawn led student travel clubs an attended Panterra trips sharing with the students the magic of the Sea of Cortez.

Pamela Haggarty - Board Member

Pamela Haggarty is currently the Sustainable Communities Team Lead for First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group (FNTSAG), providing environmental and solid waste management technical services and training for First Nations in Alberta for almost a decade.

She has been an active member on the National Advisory Committee for the First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative 2016-2021 and was appointed to sit on the evaluation advisory committee for this national program.

Pamela has experience as a board director and held the position of secretary and led the communications working group over two terms for the Recycling Council of Alberta of which she is still an active member.

She holds a M.Ed. from the University of Alberta and has over 25 years of experience with adult education and training specializing in supporting students with disabilities in higher education programs.

Samantha Tinworth - Board Member

I grew up in a large family in Northern Alberta, spending lots of time outdoors; camping, riding horses, and girl guiding, experiencing everything that Northern Alberta has to offer. I am a board certified Highland dance instructor, with many years of experience travelling North America competing, performing and instructing. I am an avid volunteer with many diverse interests, having volunteered with the Peace Area Riding for the Disabled Society, Grande Prairie Highland Games, Helen Schuler Nature Center, and the Cochrane Ecological Institute.

I completed a Bachelor of Science in Biology as well as a Bachelor of Education in Science Education at the University of Lethbridge. I am passionate about sharing my love of learning, science, and nature with others.

My first Panterra trip was at age 13, where I was captured by the beauty of the ocean. Over the years I have journeyed on several Panterra expeditions as both a guest and a Jr. Naturalist. Growing up with Panterra is what solidified my love for animals and my passion for sharing their beauty with the world.

I am thrilled and humbled to continue my journey with Panterra as a board member; hoping to contribute to the society that made me who I am today.

Kelli Chorjel - Board Member

I began my involvement with Panterra as a student back in 1991. I returned as a junior naturalist on a number of trips during my high school years and spent the summer after high school working for the organization.

I went on to get her Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco. My career path led me back to working with students spending twelve years with the Sonoma County Office of Education in Northern California. I continued my involvement with Panterra as my family and I visited the Sea of Cortez on two Journey of Giving expeditions. My professional career path led me to my current position as the Executive Assistant to the President at Northwest Lineman College.

I have served on a number of boards, including as President of the Middletown Sports Boosters club. I currently reside with my family in Meridian, Idaho. My husband and I have three wonderful boys. My passions include traveling, photography, and youth projects.

JP Blanchard - Board Member

I was born and raised in a small town in northern Alberta called Spirit River. While attending high school I was given the opportunity to participate on a Panterra Young Naturalist Expedition to the Sea of Cortez. This would be my first expedition, but certainly not my last. The impression that this expedition, and the people involved, left on me as a young adult was immeasurable.

Life happened, as it does for most, and it was not until some years later that I was back in contact with Lela. She offered the opportunity to participate in another Young Naturalist expedition as a volunteer, and then again on a couple of Journey of Giving expeditions. On one Journey of Giving expedition, the purpose was to bring medical/professional services to various remote locations around the Sea of Cortez.

It was on this trip that I spearheaded the construction of a school, which has since become a mainstay in the community, offering education to women and children.

I have since settled with my family in Calgary, and I own and operate a general contracting and construction business, JPAUL Construction. We offer custom construction and maintenance solutions to residential and commercial clients in Calgary and surrounding area, allowing me to use my skills as a journeyman carpenter daily.

It is my dream that my children can grow up with Panterra in their lives and acquire the same appreciation for culture and care of the planet.

Captain Martin Espinoza - Ships Captain

Captain Martin Espinoza is revered as one of the most experienced Captain’s in the Sea of Cortez. His career began at an early age working out at sea as a fisherman and grew exponentially from there.

As the Panterra Captain of over 20 years, Martin welcomes students and guests alike to join him in the wheelhouse to learn about all the navigation equipment and experience “driving the boat”.

Captain Martin and Lela have worked together spanning two decades and several boats later as we upgraded ships over the years.

If a book could be written about true explorers, Martin and Lela would have a bestseller. Both boast a perfect safety record working together for 22 years in the Sea of Cortez.

In this picture Captain Martin, who rarely leaves the ship, had come ashore with guests to observe sea turtle hatchlings emerging from their nests as they make their maiden voyage to sea.

Alan Robles - Naturalist

Alan Robles first started with Panterra in 2015.

In 2018 he was very instrumental in the success of overseeing the logistics and role as a translator, for a National Geographic episode Panterra hosted, “Jeb Hogan’s 1049 lb shark”. During this episode we introduced ultrasounding a pregnant female whale shark approx. 12 meters in length.

Alan has taken a sabbatical from Panterra to help raise a beautiful baby daughter and we look forward to his return in the development of Panterra’s new academic initiatives.

Alan’s credentials include extensive mariner experience, expedition naturalist, lifeguard and First Aid Responder. We look forward to having him back working with us as we continue our exploration of the Sea of Cortez!

Alejandra De La Cerda - Naturalist

I was born in Mexicali, BCN, Mexico. At the age of 3 my family and I moved to Chihuahua where I grew up and studied. My mother, being an educator, provided me with English lessons until age 17.

Marine biology had been my career dream since I first experienced the sea many years ago. My mother, in support of my career interests, and I decided La Paz was the place to study.

In January 2015, I started university studying marine biology and immediately switched to alternative tourism where I felt far more fulfilled. In the second semester of 2015, I started the Alternative Tourism Degree and began to work as a guide in the Espíritu Santo Archipelago and swimming tours with whale sharks during the holiday seasons.

I graduated from alternative tourism in 2020. From the beginning of my career to the present I continue to work as a guide and naturalist, now full time.

I was first introduced to Panterra through a practicum scholarship program they had set up at my attending university, Autonomous University of Baja California Sur in La Paz. I was hired as a naturalist and look forward to working and growing in my career with the Panterra team. It has opened my eyes to more than being a naturalist. It has given me the opportunity to recognize that I have a much greater responsibility of being a part of a team in caring for the environment and it’s inhabitants.

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