Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center welcomes new director • St Pete Catalyst
For Leah Biery, the new director of the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, its prime location right in the middle of St. Pete’s Pier sparks all sorts of ideas.
“What an inspiring place for people to come and learn more about the oceans and the ecosystem, then go out and be there,” Biery said. “And having a new appreciation for it.”
Conserving the oceans is this North Carolina native’s passion. And Tampa Bay Watch’s mission is to help protect and restore the bay, as well as adjacent bodies of water. The 3,000 square foot facility features numerous exhibits that tell the story of Tampa Bay’s unique ecosystem and what the average man, woman or child can do to help.
“With the location on The Pier,” Biery marveled, “there are constantly people walking past who are members of the community rollerblading, walking their dogs, running, hanging out with their families. There are visitors from all over the world.
“So in addition to people coming to us as a destination, we get so much foot traffic from people who are just curious and passing by, which is amazing. To be able to reach these people, without necessarily being their target destination, is a really powerful thing.
Biery reported to work three weeks ago. She lived in the Sanibel/Captiva area of southwest Florida as the director of operations for the marine conservation organization Sanibel Sea School.
While earning a zoology degree from North Carolina State University, she arrived in Sanibel — which had been a favorite vacation spot for her family — one summer, looking for an internship. She fell in love with the place.
An undergraduate project working with baboons in Tanzania – four months living in a tent, in one of the hottest and buggiest parts of the world – led Biery to devote himself instead to studying the Marine biology. She gave in to the pull of her beloved ocean.
She earned a Masters in Fisheries Management from the University of British Columbia. “My interest in sustainable seafood has sparked this,” she explained. “While working on Sanibel, I became very interested in the impact our seafood consumption had on our oceans and fish populations. And I wanted to learn more about that and understand how I could help protect the fish populations.
She wrote her thesis on shark fishing and the shark fin trade, and spent six months in Belize studying gillnet fishing for the marine conservation organization Oceana. “After graduating, I really realized that education was my favorite place to work.”
The route took her back to the Sanibel School of the Sea, where, among other initiatives, she was part of an island-wide program to educate anglers about the dangers, to birds and other marine animals, from the tangle of discarded monofilament fishing lines.
The “Mind Your Line” educational campaign had several components, including the installation of monofilament recycling bins around local piers and other popular fishing spots, and instructional videos on how to safely remove pelicans’ hooks.
“It was,” she explained, “a great example of cooperation between nonprofits, which also competed for funds.”
There are similar programs, she was happy to discover, in Pinellas County.
“Tampa Bay Watch has volunteer days, where they go out and clean the monofilament on the decks, and they also have days where volunteers come in to sort it and clean it for recycling,” Biery said.
The group also works with Tier 1 schools, has a mobile classroom, and sponsors hands-on field trips from its education and restoration headquarters in Tierra Verde.
All of this gives Leah Biery big ideas. Good ocean stewardship starts with young people.
“I would really like to expand our community outreach programs for children,” she said, “to reach underserved children who don’t spend a lot of time by the ocean and learn more about the ocean , even if they live nearby.
“Connecting with them and giving them the opportunity to experience the bay is really important to me.