Welcome to the Muddymermaid!
This year Earth Day looks pretty different as we all stay home and practice social distancing to do our part and help flatten the curve.
My name is Leah Gaines-Sewell. I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and spent most of my life at the beach and in the water. I have a bachelor’s degree in Marine biology and a Masters in Coastal Sciences from the University of Southern Mississippi. I am married to David Sewell (DJ), and we grew up two blocks away from each other in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We currently live in Arizona and both work in academia. DJ is a guitar professor and I am currently studying part of a stream ecology project and teaching ecology and environmental science courses.
During all this downtime I’ve been working on launching my new Blog, the Muddymermaid, in order to explore sustainability from a practical standpoint. What better day to launch than Earth Day 2020 while we are all stuck inside, nonchalantly saving the planet by not driving anywhere, working from home, and learning to appreciate the outdoors a little more each day.
As a scientist I have become increasingly concerned about the health of our planet. I also know how difficult it can be to see what we as individuals can do to actually make a difference. I have made it a personal goal to decrease my carbon footprint by researching sustainable solutions that are both easy to implement and are cost effective for most people. Like many other millenials my husband and I are in a major transition period in our lives. We are working towards advancing our careers, paying off student loans, saving money for a downpayment on a house, all while just trying to figure out how to properly adult! So I understand the importance of finding solutions that work for a large majority of people, including myself. I will use my science background to seek out where the biggest impacts can be made in our day to day lives. I hope that by sharing my journey to a more sustainable lifestyle I can educate others on how to do the same.
As a true southern girl I love playing hostess. If you’ve ever been to a crawfish boil you know that southerners know how to cook and know how to feed people. If I invite you to my house I will feed you, I won’t run out of food, and it probably won’t be very healthy. I have planned so many baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, birthday parties, and dinner parties in my lifetime that I thought it would be a great idea to also share my tips and tricks for doing so. I miss welcoming people into my home right now but you better believe that as soon as it’s safe all y’all are welcome!
More About Me
I grew up five minutes from the beach and my Dad used to take me fishing all the time. We spent many weekends on Horn or Ship island where I would wade fish and beach comb all day. I am at home with my feet covered in sand and a seashell in my pocket. I am a complete beachbum at heart and my life’s goal is to be the super tan old lady who walks the beach early each morning after her coffee. It only made sense for me to choose a career that allowed me to spend my life at the beach. My primary focus of study has been ecology, both marine and freshwater. Which means I study how animals, like fish, insects, snails, oysters, crayfish, etc… interact with their environments.
I will admit that I don’t fit the stereotypical image of a field scientist. I love makeup, have too many pairs of shoes, and I hate zip off pants. For years my field outfit consisted of monogramed waders and outrageously large fake pearl earrings. My Master’s thesis explored the life history of the bayou killifish and I spent that time catching fish in the muddy salt marshes of my hometown. I would set minnow traps as the tide was falling and would sometimes have to go in the middle of a workday to check them. My sister, Katy, was my unofficial assistant and would often join me.
During one of these trips I had to set traps behind a nature center and the intern working that day seemed very concerned about me going in the marsh. I had done this twice a month for several months at this point and felt very comfortable finding my way around. I told her not to worry, I’d done this many times before, but she still walked out to the marsh with us. She monitored my progress until she saw me hip deep in mud setting my traps with the skill of a practiced field scientist. Once the intern left I complained to my sister about not needing a babysitter. Katy started laughing hysterically, and informed me that I really didn’t look like a competent field scientist in my monogrammed waders, pearls, and a full face of makeup. This is when the Muddymermaid brand was born.
I started working at a marine education center during the summers in highschool and worked my way up to instructor after graduating college. I began working there full time in 2009 and over 15 years I taught thousands of students about the ecosystem of the Mississippi sound. I helped start a shark camp, where we took middle and high school students on field excursions to catch and tag sharks. Students learned how to identify different species and all about the importance of sharks in an ecosystem. The research we did helped out local scientists studying shark populations in the Mississippi Sound. The center worked really hard to keep the general public informed on the research being done by local scientists and held many events free and open to anyone. I loved working there and developed my passion and skills in science communication.
DJ and I moved to Arizona in 2016 so he could begin his doctoral degree in classical guitar and performance. He completed his degree this past December and I can now say I’m married to a Dr. He always jokes that he feels bad about bringing his marine biologist wife to a desert, but even though the closest beach is 4 hours away, we have fallen in love with Arizona. We have made amazing friends and spend our free time hiking and exploring the Sonoran desert. The summers are definitely brutal but most of the year we don’t even need an air conditioner! While we aren’t sure if this is our forever home we aren’t planning on leaving anytime soon!
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