Ruben Allen started volunteering as a young boy, engaging in community service projects with his church and the Boy Scouts. He says his father was a great mentor in learning to give back to the community. When the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) in Ponte Vedra Beach was looking for volunteers, Ruben decided to join. He’s been volunteering with the reserve since 2014. He volunteers on the turtle patrol as well as a teacher for GTM for All, helping hearing-impaired kids be able to experience the splendor of the beach and marshlands.
“It’s what we did back then, and it’s what you do now,” says Ruben. “You give back to the community.”
His involvement in the Boy Scouts and his experience as a hunter helped Ruben cultivate an appreciation for nature. Ruben grew up near the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) which is one of 29 protected areas that make up the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). He’s familiar with and passionate about nature and maintaining the integrity of ecosystems.
“Hunters are the biggest conservationist,” says Ruben. “I love being outdoors. The world doesn’t live by itself.”
From April 15th to November 1st, Ruben works on the turtle patrol, where two-person teams identify turtle tracks and nests. During the turtle nesting season, Ruben patrols the beach every Thursday with his partner. At 5:30 am they drive up the beach searching for the tracks that will help them identify the turtles and the location of nests. The turtle patrol works to identify three turtles that nest on the beach of GTM: loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles. They’re able to identify the different species of turtle by their unique tracks. They locate where the egg clutch should be and take some of the eggs for DNA sampling. They share the DNA to find out where the turtles are and add the information to the Sea Turtle Conservation database.
Florida has the largest loggerhead nesting in the world. The GTM and the turtle patrol keep a close eye on the nests that are about to hatch and they count the hatched eggs and release the turtles. They take inventory of the entire nest.
“Watching the baby turtles—they take two steps forward five steps back trying to get to the water,” says Ruben. “But as soon as they figure out how to duck under the waves, they’re gone. It’s awesome because of how many are going to make it back. Every time they go back there’s a chance that they might come back and lay more eggs.”
Ruben also volunteers with GTM for All which accommodates Florida School for Deaf and Blind where the students engage in the biology programs at GTM. The children rely on Ruben to be their eyes as they enter the waves and hold a fish for the first time. Ruben says it’s rewarding and they want to integrate different experiences in the reserve.
“It gives them chills and happiness to help kids experience something they’ve never been able to,” says Ruben. He loves being a mentor to the students and helping them experience wildlife for the first time.
Ruben says his favorite part is being able to get out in nature. He says no two days on the GTM Reserve are the same. He enjoys being able to educate kids about nature and let them touch a fish, snake, etc. He volunteered with a title one school in Florida, where the students had never seen the beach before even while living in Florida. Being able to facilitate the kids seeing the ocean for the first time was a special moment for Ruben. He emphasizes the importance of the estuary for all Florida animal life. The reserve is a special haven for migrating birds, and a nursery for the fisheries to lay their eggs. Ruben wants to educate future conservationists and the local community about the importance of the estuary.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Ruben Allen? Find local volunteer opportunities.