Terry Helmers is a Florida Keys volunteer extraordinaire. His underwater specialty, as a volunteer and as a NOAA- and national parks-authorized diver, is mooring buoys. The dedicated Helmers has logged about 800 volunteer hours with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and more than 2,300 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Viewing a sea turtle release, and seeing the rehabilitated creature return to the Florida Keys waters where it belongs, can make you cry. There’s something about watching a turtle slip into its saltwater habitat and swim joyfully away that touches the heart and inspires a powerful sense of oneness with the natural order.
Mill McCleary, executive director of the Reef Relief organization based in Key West, uses advocacy and organizational skills to create tangible impacts through clean water and healthy ecosystems. He has overseen Reef Relief’s establishment of Key West Marine Park, founding of Coral Camp for Kids, and recent Plastic Free Key West program.
Sue Cooper, a Florida Keys paddleboard guru and author of “Millionaire in Flip Flips,” is the face of Lazy Dog Adventures — known for its slogan, “We do more in a week than most people do all day.” But don’t be fooled by that slogan; Sue is brimming with business acumen and motivational concepts.
Cindy Lewis, director of Keys Marine Lab on Long Key, is a woman of diverse talents. A respected specialist in marine biology and coral restoration, she is an American Academy of Underwater Science diver and a National Association of Underwater Instructors dive master. She also plays the French horn with a concert band.
When the “real world” seems especially stressful, escape to a place that recharges the body, soothes the soul and inspires reconnection with life’s natural rhythms. The Florida Keys backcountry is that place — a realm of wild beauty and tranquil waters, with one of the most diverse assortments of marine life on the planet.
Artist Taylor Hale, a Florida Keys native raised in Key Largo, has come home. Hale is known for his stunning ethereal works of clouds and surreal scenes of the Keys’ natural world, mostly on and around the water. He recently unveiled an Islamorada gallery to display his artistry, with a second coming soon.
Billy Litmer is the founder of Key West’s Honest Eco tours, specializing in wild bottlenose dolphin-watching and nature charters. Designer and builder of the island’s first lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid charter boat with electric motors, he shares his love for the Keys’ wildlife and environment with guests — inspiring them to cherish both.
Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, discovered his calling by volunteering at the center, providing rescue and rehabilitative care to sick and injured wild birds. The center, located inside the 7-acre Indigenous Park on White Street, treats and rehabilitates about 1,400 wild birds and other Keys creatures each year.
Every day brings a reason to celebrate the planet’s beauty in the Florida Keys — an area of natural wonders set against a backdrop of sea, land and sky. And this coming Earth Day, Keys visitors and residents can honor the environment with activities that include helping restore the island chain’s treasured coral reef.