REEF volunteers are the heart of our organization. We are so appreciative of everyone who dedicates time, support, and resources to help us fulfill our marine conservation mission. We are very proud to announce Laurie Brooks as our 2018 Volunteer of the Year!

Laurie was raised on both coasts of the U.S., spending time in both California and New Jersey on Atlantic and Pacific beaches. Throughout her life, she sought opportunities for continued growth and learning, achieving four master’s degrees, in Mathematics, Petroleum Engineering, Computational Finance, and Education. She has a broad range of hobbies, including cooking, reading, botany, and marine biology! She has incorporated each of these interests into her activities as a REEF volunteer.

Laurie was introduced to REEF by one of her daughters in 2013. The same year, Laurie and her husband Don moved to Key Largo, with the goal of becoming certified SCUBA divers and volunteering with the Florida State Parks, where both of them had camped as children. In Key Largo, they met other REEF members and started attending REEF events throughout the community. She is a familiar face at REEF Fish & Friends each month; regularly bringing food to share and helping out in whatever ways she can. Laurie even presented a Fish & Friends seminar in October 2015, titled “Math, Art, and the Coral Reef – What does a mathematician see when looking at a coral reef?” Each summer, she assists with REEF’s Lionfish Derby Series by helping to fillet lionfish and preparing lionfish ceviche for derby attendees.

Laurie is passionate about education and shares REEF’s mission with her extended family, to provide her children and grandchildren with opportunities to think critically and engage with their natural surroundings. Last summer, three of Laurie and Don’s grandchildren and two grand nieces attended REEF Ocean Explorers Summer Camp. Two of their grandchildren, Gabriel, 13, and Sebastian, 12, have attended the camp since its beginnings in 2015, and they are now both certified SCUBA divers! Laurie has also shared various education programs and curriculums with REEF’s staff to support our growing Explorers Education Program.

In 2018, Laurie led a tremendous volunteer effort to beautify REEF’s campus. Supported by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and Upper Keys Garden Club, Laurie worked alongside our staff and interns to design and implement a native butterfly and bird garden and freshwater pond. She offered financial support and a significant amount of time to complete this project, and even created a garden guidebook describing each plant and butterfly species found in the garden. As the lead volunteer for Dagny Johnson Key Largo Botanical State Park Native Plant Nursery, Laurie selected and planted each plant in REEF’s new garden, and she continues to assist with garden maintenance today. Laurie’s time and support played a large part in this project’s success, and we are so thankful for her expertise.

“To me, REEF means citizen science,” Laurie says. She is inspired REEF’s programs and the opportunities they provide for continued learning and conservation. It is the combination of conservation and education that Laurie finds most important. Laurie's favorite quote from Sylvia Earle’s book Sea Change sums it up nicely: “Far and away the greatest threat to the sea and to the future of mankind is ignorance. But with knowing comes caring, and with caring, the hope that maybe we’ll find the Holy Grail of understanding, strike a balance with the natural systems that sustain us, and thus achieve an enduring place for humankind on a planet that got along without us for billions of years and no doubt could do so again.” (1995, p. xxi)

Congratulations, Laurie, and thank you for all you do! We are so glad to have you as part of the REEF family!