Agri Leader

A swimmingly great career

Much of Lykes Bros. senior ecologist Linda McCarthy's life has revolved around water. Starting with her undergraduate degree in aquatic ecology and her master's in ichthyology (the study of fish), McCarthy has studied unique fish species off the coast of Saudi Arabia, scuba dived in the Seychelles and Maldives, then worked her way back around the globe to Florida, assisting with water restoration projects through employment with state agencies and now Lykes.

The Cape Cod native, who moved to Florida to do her undergraduate studies at Florida Atlantic University, spent eight years in Saudi Arabia. Her husband, an American, was born there, and the couple worked as marine biologists for an oil company.

"They were having spills at the time, and there was a fairly large shrimping industry in the Gulf. (The company) wanted to hire biologists to help them with some of their ecological issues," said McCarthy.

She said living on the compound in the Middle East was like living on a military base where everything a person needed was right there, but McCarthy and others would go camping out in the desert and go "pot-picking - looking for old pottery shards and arrowheads in old dried-up streambeds," she explained. On the compound, the men and women would play softball and soccer. But it was different outside the walls. As a woman she was not permitted to drive, and among the locals she had to make sure her arms and legs were covered.

Her work involved studying the local fish and conducting ecological studies like monitoring petroleum pollution and looking at the effects of thermal discharge from a power plant and salt deposits from a desalination plant into the Gulf. She even discovered a new species of fish, which was named after her - pseudochromis linda, a four-inch wrasse that looks "like a little grouper," said McCarthy.

During her time in Saudi Arabia, McCarthy developed her hobby of photography. On her camping trips in the desert, she'd photograph lizards and snakes. She would also capture the amazing colors of the fish, coral and creatures of the Indo Pacific on scuba diving trips with her husband.

Back state-side, McCarthy's watery career moved inland. She worked on water policy and compliance for nine years with the Department of Environmental Regulation (now the Department of Environmental Protection) and for 11 years with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Today, with Lykes Bros., McCarthy continues to work on environmental compliance and restoration projects centered around water. One major project on Lykes' land is the West Water Hole project. This project removes nutrient overload from waters in our area before they flow into the Everglades and estuaries, possibly damaging fragile ecosystems. The nutrients, which can cause harmful algae blooms, are removed by uptake from plants or settle out as particulates. McCarthy said there has been a consistent removal rate of 90 percent of nutrients after the first year.

A second project she's involved with is the Nicodemus Slough project. To help avoid discharging water from our area into Florida's estuaries, approximately 16,000 acres will be used to store water on Lykes' land when Lake Okeechobee is high. Because of the slough, a deep cut in the landscape, it is estimated that 30,000 acre-feet of water can be stored on the property and subsequently managed by the water districts.

Now in her 60s, McCarthy said she enjoys her role at Lykes, the people she works with, and the opportunities she has to photograph people and animals on the ranch, including gopher tortoises that live on a refuge on the property.

"I enjoy the field work," most of all, said McCarthy. The reason is obvious: "I'm outside. I'm away from my desk on all this beautiful property."