BY MANDY MILES Free Press Staff

STOCK ISLAND — 

 “Most counties or cities have a mosquito control program, but it’s usually a department within a county government or a public health department, so you don’t hear about it as often,” said Leal, who started work with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District in 2003 as a biologist and offshore supervisor.

 “I graduated from college on a Sunday and started work that Wednesday,” she said smiling and shaking her head at the hectic memory.

“But it couldn’t have worked out better,” Leal said Monday from her second-floor office at the mosquito control district’s College Road headquarters on Stock Island. “I had met my husband, Luis Leal, in college and he had grown up in Key West, and we knew we wanted to live down here when we finished school.”

 Luis Leal is the athletic trainer and head baseball coach at Marathon High School, and Andrea Leal, armed with a degree in marine science and biology, started applying to any place in the island chain that might need a biologist.

 “And mosquito control was first to call me back,” she said, quickly researching all that the agency does. “For my first four years or so, I spent almost every day on one of our boats, going out to some of the uninhabited wilderness islands to monitor mosquito populations and keep them from coming over onto the populated islands of the Keys.” 

Leal quickly caught the mosquito bug. The district enabled her to obtain a master’s degree in entomology from University of Nebraska through a distance learning program.

 “The more I learned, the more I loved it,” she said, quickly off just a dozen or so of the 45 different species of mosquito that call the Florida Keys home, along with the different eradication strategies that include larvicide granules dropped from the air that kill the larval mosquitoes while they’re still in the standing water in which they breed. 

“We’re trying to move away from general insecticides, which is what the trucks spray to reduce our impact on non-targeted species,” she said, adding that the district coordinates with local beekeepers and other sensitive subjects before spraying.

 “We also have no-spray areas to protect certain other species,” she said. Last September, Leal took the reins of that entire government agency, with its 70 full-time employees, countywide offices, research labs and a fleet of four helicopters, one airplane and dozens of spray trucks.

 “I had sort of moved into the administrative side of things around 2007,” Leal said. Around the same time, she and her husband welcomed twin boys to their home team.

The twins, Gavin and Gabriel, are now 10 years old and constantly playing soccer and, of course, baseball.

 “So I spend all my time at some baseball or soccer game, practice or tournament,” she said.

 And if she happens to wear her collared work shirt, with the mosquito control logo embroidered on the front of it, talk regularly turns to who’s getting bitten, by what and where.

 “All of our staff always tells the public that we’re here for them, and we love hearing from them about problem areas,” she said, encouraging anyone with a mosquito concern to contact the agency and request a service call for treatment.

 “And one of the biggest things people can do themselves is to empty any standing water on their property once a week, because mosquitoes can breed in a bottle cap’s worth of water. 

That’s all it takes,” she said. For more information or to request service, call 305- 292-7190 or visit keysmosquito.org. mmiles@keysnews.com