Senior Aquarist, Kayla Leyden

Senior Aquarist at Shreveport Aquarium in Louisiana, USA, Kayla Leyden talks to us about being inspired by science, her job working to help prevent littering in the oceans and becoming a Marine Superhero!
What inspired you to study environmental biology?
Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, I have always loved the ocean. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is vulnerable to climate change, pollution and invasive species. You protect what you love and that is what inspired me to study environmental biology.
What science subject did you enjoy most in school? Why?
Environmental science, marine biology, and ecology were my favorite science subjects. These classes typically have an outdoor component, I enjoyed getting out of the classroom and experiencing these subjects first hand.
Where you interested in marine science at a younger age?
Yes! I spent every weekend, birthday, and summer at the zoo, aquarium, or beach.
What and where did you study?
I studied Environmental Biology and Chemistry at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA.
What do you do as a senior aquarist? Can you give me examples of how an average day looks?
Working in an aquarium means every day is different. A typical day would start with animal health and life support checks, then cleaning and feeding, and then another round of animal health and life support checks.
What I love about this career field is that there isn’t really an average day. Just recently I was out of the office for a week to transport sharks 3,000 miles to my facility. I get to train sharks, rays, octopus, turtles. I get to dive with incredible animals every week.
Do you have a specialism?
I am a Jack of all trades. I have taken care of everything from cleaner shrimp to endangered species like the leafy seadragon.
Do aquarists look at any other part of marine life other than fish?
Aquarist look after all kinds of animals, reptiles, invertebrates, freshwater fish, and saltwater fish. Aquarists are also responsible for the environment in which their collection lives, making us responsible for molecules and bacteria as well as the critters you can see when you visit.

Does what you do affect the general public in ways they may not realise?
We are stewards of our environment and every guest that comes through our building leaves with a little bit more information a broader horizon.
Can you explain why plastic in the ocean is bad?
Plastic in the ocean is bad for everyone. All of the plastic that has ever been produced is still here in some form of another. Plastic doesn’t go away, it just breaks down. Microplastics are making their way into our food systems. We live on the ‘Blue Planet’ if our oceans are not healthy our planet is not healthy.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have seen plastic pollution negatively affect the environment?
A whale was washed to shore in my hometown in Virginia. It had hundreds of pieces of plastic in its stomach. When an animal ingests plastic there are a few things that can happen, it could cause a blockage and the animal will die as a result or the plastic will take up space in their stomach and make them feel full leading to starvation.
What can you suggest to people to help prevent plastic pollution?
REFUSE! Every choice you make you are voting for your future, refuse single-use plastics and vote for a better tomorrow.
Are there other things that we do that harm the oceans? (microbeads, sun cream etc.)
“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea No matter where on Earth you live” – Sylvia Earle. We live on the Blue Planet, almost everything we do impacts the ocean. Your everyday routine can have a big impact on the ocean.
Do you brush your teeth with a plastic toothbrush?
Do you drink your juice with a plastic straw?
Does your lunch come wrapped in a plastic bag?
Is your food sustainably sourced?
If you were a marine superhero with a mission to save our oceans, what would your name be?
The Fintastic Anti-Plastic
What special powers would you have that would help your cause?
The ability to remove even the tiniest of microplastic!
What kind of outfit do you think you’d like?
It would be made from placoid scales just like a shark to help me deliver awesome justice whenever and wherever the archenemy the Drastic Dr. Plastic may arise
If you could be any fish in the sea, what would you be?
I would be a spotted eagle ray. Eagle rays can swim as well as fly! They travel the world and visit warm coral reefs all over the world.
Make sure you look at Kayla’s Instagram page