VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT, Terence Helmers
Volunteer Terence Helmers
Terence “Terry” Helmers is the recipient of the 2022 Adult Volunteer of the Year Award for the Greener Initiative.
Terry Helmers began volunteering at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in 2019. As of October 2022, he has contributed more than 2,300 volunteer hours. Terry works independently on park cleanups, and so far, he has removed approximately 54,660 pounds of debris from the sensitive ecosystem of the park.
Terry works in three areas of the park, surveying, identifying the debris, prioritizing the work and then removing the harmful debris. The three areas, known as Point Charles, the Narrows and Rock Harbor, suffered from an accumulation of illegally dumped trash, storm debris and coastal debris. He obtains the necessary permits and coordinates with local partners for recycling and disposal.
Many of the items Terry removes are overlooked by local cleanup events due to the difficulty of their removal. Terry takes the time to plan and execute the extraction of these items through aerial photography analysis and creative execution of removal, which includes floating larger items on rafts and using higher tides to move items to his offloading ramp.
Not only has Terry completed initial debris removal within his zone, he continues to maintain the area, making it the cleanest part of the natural coastline in the Key Largo region.
Although it might seem small, Terry makes an important contribution to a greener initiative when he tosses the trash into the dumpsters and reuses the plastic bags to collect more trash.
He also helps with maintenance of the park’s 46 buoys, which help protect the coral reef. He has installed, inspected, cleaned and replaced buoys. When a buoy is missing, he works to find and retrieve it. He has spent hours singlehandedly splicing and braiding lines for the mooring balls down lines and tag lines.
Terry also trains new park rangers on how to splice lines and operate the hydraulic pump used to drill into the reef for buoy installation. He helps with the installation, maintenance and site inspection for the Friends of Pennekamp's coral cam, which provides a live online feed from the reef and at an exhibit in the visitor center.
Terry’s dedication to the protection and restoration of our natural resources expands beyond the boundaries of our park. He also volunteers with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve conducting similar cleanups and assisting with marine resource issues. When on the water or on land, Terry is an excellent ambassador for the park, encouraging others to keep it clean and healthy.
He sets an example for our local community in stewardship and commitment to protecting one of the most special natural areas of Florida.