The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) recently announced that two of its volunteers, Ruben Allen and Jeff Finnan, are recipients of the Daily Point of Light Award for their outstanding community service.
"We are thrilled that two of our volunteers are being acknowledged for their commitment to helping with our research, education and stewardship programs," said Dr. Michael Shirley, director of the GTM Research Reserve. "GTM Research Reserve would not be able to achieve all its projects without the dedication of its volunteers."
The Daily Point of Light Award was established by the late President George H. W. Bush to recognize extraordinary volunteers who donate their time and talent to better their communities.
For the past five years, Allen has been volunteering in all aspects of research, education and community outreach efforts at GTM. He has been instrumental in educating more than 4,000 students a year, along with teaching "GTM for All," which promotes greater accessibility to the GTM Research Reserve for visitors with unique abilities such as vision and hearing challenges.
Allen has helped those students learn about the reserve by pulling a seine net through the Guana Lake and inspiring them to become involved in environmental issues. He has also assisted with education's virtual reality (VR) long-distance learning program, which brings the estuary to the teachers and students with the aid of headsets.
In addition, Allen patrols GTM's beach, once a week from April to October, as a member of the marine turtle patrol. He also serves as the lead on fisheries, oyster monitoring and nekton surveys. In 2019, Ruben received GTM's 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award.
As a volunteer for two years, Finnan has contributed to GTM's research programs—spending hours on a boat in the ever-changing Florida weather—collecting nekton data.
He also leads the monthly hikes for GTM's education program, teaching the public about the reserve's natural and cultural history.
Additionally, Finnan conducts community outreach at local festivals, where he educates the public about the work being done at the reserve. He also volunteers with the oyster monitoring project, water quality data sampling and marsh vegetation monitoring. He has volunteered more than 400 hours at the reserve in less than two years.
For more information about volunteering at the GTM Research Reserve, email Volunteer Coordinator Shannon Rininger or call (904)823-4500.
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