Growing up along the Florida shores, Devon Pharo always looked to the ocean. His passion for the blue is true, and it’s translated into a career researching and working in the Florida Keys waters and reefs.

Born in Stuart, Pharo attended the University of Florida in Gainesville for undergraduate and graduate studies. He majored in biology and minored in wildlife ecology and conservation. With admiration for wildlife and habitat conservation, Pharo placed emphasis on marine species and environments. His academic studies ultimately took him to the Florida Keys. That led him to become a marine biologist on the restoration ecology team with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute (part of FWC) in Marathon and a full-time resident in the Upper Keys since 2018. 

“The ocean has been a constant presence in my life,” Pharo said. “My mom and dad both instilled a love of the water and natural world in me. When I obtained my scuba certification, my fascination with the underwater world led to a career in marine science.”

Pharo with a snook while out fishing in the backcountry of the Florida Bay. CONTRIBUTED

Full name? Have a nickname? Devon Pharo, no nicknames that have stuck. 

What have you been doing throughout the pandemic? My field work has of course slowed since the pandemic started, but I’m staying busy working from home. I’m mostly analyzing data and working on scientific publications with coworkers. On my days off, you can find me fishing in the backcountry of Florida Bay or diving out at the reef with friends. My wife and I have also been teaching our dog utterly pointless but entertaining tricks.

What about the job do you enjoy? Making a difference on the Florida Reef Tract, whether it’s outplanting hundreds of corals with my team or surveying the reef for disease. It’s also rewarding to speak with the community and help people understand what is happening to the reef and how humans have affected the situation, but also how we can turn it around and make it better. 

What kinds of challenges are you seeing out there with our environment? We’ve been tracking the stony coral tissue loss disease and it has had a major impact on the coral community throughout the Florida Reef Tract. We also see a lot of damage from anchors, as well as countless old anchors laying all over the reef. It’s really important that boaters are aware where they drop anchor when fishing or diving. As with anywhere around the state, water quality is another major factor when discussing the state of various aquatic environments. Agricultural and wastewater runoff from local sources and South Florida can make its way down the Everglades and into Florida Bay, creating ideal conditions for algal blooms to occur. Regions of the bay struggle with these blooms that can decimate sponge communities in the shallow hard-bottom habitats.

What do you enjoy most about working in the Keys? The ocean! Working as a marine biologist in the Keys gives me the opportunity to dive different sections of the reef from Key Largo to the Lower Keys. It’s nice getting to explore such a wide expanse of our underwater environment. (And then on my time off I get to explore these spots recreationally.) 

When you have some down time, what do you like to do? I’m a very social person, I love going on trips with my wife, Lynea, hanging out with good friends, enjoying Islamorada’s parks, beaches, and of course, Florida Keys Brewing Company.

Have a favorite spot in the Keys to hang out? On land, we usually take the dog and hang out at Windley Key State Park, but if it’s on the water, I’d say the backcountry of the Everglades. 

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? The fjords of Norway if I had to name one, but pretty much everywhere. 

If you could take anyone out to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? Charles Darwin or Steve Irwin, tough choice.

If you could have a superhero power, what would it be? Breathe underwater (of course).

If you wrote an autobiography, what would the title be? “Wild Life.”

Who’s been your biggest inspiration throughout your journey? My wife, family and friends.

What is one thing that always, always makes you happy? Hanging out with good friends.  

Favorite guilty pleasure? Nonfiction books about the Golden Age of piracy, and also historical fiction about pirates. But I really don’t feel guilty about it.

What’s your favorite movie or TV show? “Black Sails.”

Finish these sentences…

My friends would tell you that I like to … Live life! Loudly and more enthusiastically than most…

Life in the Keys is … what you make of it; there’s a lot to love about this community.My causes are … clean waters, sustainability and getting more people to explore the outdoors.

Devon Pharo visits Portugal. CONTRIBUTED

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Jim McCarthy believes in community reporting, giving back and life on the water. A workout fanatic, diver and a bogey-golfer, Jim loves chicken wings, Marvel movies and sports.