For the past five years, Gary Buckles has dedicated a large part of his life to a single cause: the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Since 2007, Buckles has been an active volunteer at the sea turtle research, rehabilitation and educational facility on Jekyll Island. Several days a week, he wakes at 4 a.m., driving from his home in Folkston, to be at the center hours before it opens, in order to ensure that the facility operates as efficiently as possible.
This month, his dedication to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was recognized by an international audience. On March 16, Buckles was awarded the International Sea Turtle Society’s Ed Drane Volunteerism Award, an international award that recognizes one volunteer from around the world who has made a significant contribution to sea turtle conservation.
Chosen from a field of dozens of applicants, Buckles won the award for his ongoing devotion to and passion for sea turtle conservation. Prior to retirement several years ago, Buckles was an air traffic control, and came to the Sea Turtle Center with no formal training in veterinary medicine or marine life research. However, after years of acting as a jack-of-all-trades for the center, he has gleaned a deep understanding of what goes into sea turtle conservation and why the preservation of the sea creatures is imperative.
“This has been such an inspiring venture for me,” Buckles said. “Winning this award is an incredible honor. But working at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, as closely as I am allowed to do, has been a true gift for me.”
Having Buckles work at the center has also been a major aid for staff and other volunteers, said Dr. Terry Norton, founder and executive director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Buckles proves a devoted volunteer who never misses a shift, and is able to perform a variety of duties that help the center operate smoothly, Norton said.
“We have many great volunteers and Gary is, as this award shows, a caring, committed member of our team,” Norton said.
Jeannie Miller, volunteer coordinator at the center, echoed Norton, stating that Buckles has learned a diverse skill set since coming on board at the center. During his volunteer hours, Buckles mans a variety of stations, from assisting with sea turtle surgeries to working in the gift shop if needed.
“Gary comes in at the crack of dawn, stays 10, 12 hours, and leaves at night fall,” Miller said. “He loves being here and we love having him. He even brings us cookies.”
Currently, Buckles is in the Caribbean, working with the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network. For several years, Buckles has spent three months of the year on St. Kitts working with the network for sea turtle tagging and nesting program. He was first offered the volunteer role through Norton and was such a benefit to the team, Norton and staff invited him to come every year if able.
“Sea turtle conversation and research has become my life,” Buckles said. “My wife and I are now passionate about this cause. It’s a strange turn, for sure, but one that has honestly fulfilled me. It is a mission I plan to continue as long as they will have me.”
To contact Gary Buckles, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (869) 764-6664. Please note that Buckles will be in St. Kitts for the next several weeks and email will be the best way to reach him.
About the Georgia Sea Turtle Center: Established in 2007 on Jekyll Island and operated by the Jekyll Island Authority, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was developed as an institution devoted to the rehabilitation of injured sea turtles and preservation of the delicate balance of the oceanic ecosystem. Through sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education programs, Georgia Sea Turtle Center Executive Director Dr. Terry Norton and his staff work to increase awareness of habitat and wildlife conservation challenges, promote responsibility for ecosystem health and empower individuals to act locally, regionally, and globally to protect the environment.
About the International Sea Turtle Society Ed Drane Volunteerism Award: The Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism was established in memory of Ed Drane who was Treasurer of the ISTS for more than 20 years. This award is presented annually to a person working outside their professional life to voluntarily commit a significant portion of time, energy, and passion to the conservation of sea turtles. They do not seek academic or monetary credit for their efforts but they make a significant contribution to the study and conservation of sea turtles. For information visit www.seaturtlesociety.org.