Researcher Luke McEachron takes pride in marine science that benefits Floridians.
|Recording live coral cover
in the Florida Keys.
Center for Spatial Analysis
St. Petersburg, FL
B.S. Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University
M.S. Geography, Florida State University
I have worked for FWC almost 6 years now and have worked on projects relating to most of the marine topics covered by the agency (i.e., seagrass, turtles, manatees, oysters, corals and fisheries).
Prior to FWC, I worked briefly at a private sector GIS firm doing tedious computer and field work.
Throughout college, I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey as a GIS/Field technician, comparing watersheds throughout Colorado with active mining operations to those that had been mined in the past and for the U.S. Forest Service as a lab assistant, analyzing soil for a climate change study.
I received my first grant as a high school student to assist Ph.D students from the University of Texas at Austin with their research projects involving aquatic box turtles and cichlids in Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico. Eventually, this led to additional grants for my own research as an undergraduate student, mapping invasive plants in the same watershed.
What are you working on now?
We are currently looking at the timing and distribution of the inverted thermocline in the Florida Keys. Florida Bay produces warm, hypersaline water because of freshwater flow restrictions from the Everglades. That produces warmer water near the seafloor in the Florida Keys than at the surface. For species that are vulnerable to temperature stress, like corals, this means they are likely more vulnerable to stress than traditional models would predict. Most stress models use satellite derived surface temperature as a predictor instead of bottom temperature.
We can create a statistical model to predict bottom temperature from satellite surface temperature, which in turn can be fed into a model that more accurately indicates temperature change stress on corals.
This work complements other general work we do, such as mapping and classifying corals.
How is this information beneficial?
Coral reefs provide essential habitat for many commercially and ecologically important fish and other species. Understanding where and why some corals are more stressed than others is required for the protection and management of many species.
What is your typical work day like?
Each day is different and it usually depends on the time of year. Springtime usually means closing out old grants, preparing new grant applications and setting up the logistics for the upcoming field season. Summer is generally spent traveling to stakeholder meetings and doing field work. Fall means examining field data, constructing models and writing papers. Things tend to be slower for me in the winter, which means I have time to get caught up on things that have fallen between the cracks.
Consistently throughout the year, I have to deal with personnel, political, financial and bureaucratic issues as they come up. Once in a while, I have to drop everything to help with an oil spill, ship grounding or anything else people need.
What is your greatest career accomplishment?
My biggest career accomplishments are academic: graduating with two degrees on time with minimal student loan debt. Ultimately, it is my degrees and research experience gained during my time as a student that allowed me to work at FWC.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
By nature, scientists are often inherently logical and analytical. Sometimes procedures established for nonscientific tasks – such as administrative tasks that scientists may be required to perform as part of their jobs – don’t seem to be straightforward to scientists. The different perspective on how something is handled can create challenges.
What do you like most about your career?
I enjoy the flexibility FWC allows and the like-minded people. We have the flexibility and support to pursue original research that benefits Floridians. Flexibility also means a higher level of responsibility is expected and that each day will be different.
What do you like least about your career?
The financial compensation is not great. With the current economic climate, there are many lines of work where salaries and benefits have been impacted, and government jobs are no exception.
Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
Yes. I knew early on that I wanted to work outdoors with wildlife because I grew up having fun outdoors. I didn’t know much about the science of conservation until college, but I lucked out in picking a great school to attend.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
I would probably be a billionaire professional snowboarder during the winter and a sailboat charter captain during the summer.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Your career starts when you say it does. Don’t wait until you have received a degree in something to get experience doing it. If you are willing to work cheap, or even pay your own way, there are many opportunities to gain even the most mundane experience. Experience and who you know are more important than your degree or your grades. While a degree and grades are relevant, don’t put all your effort into those aspects alone.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Taking trips with friends, sailing, hiking, camping and fishing.