Oceanographer & grassroots educator from Alberta, Canada

Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, Leah Pengelly’s expedition to the Arctic in 2008 was not her first encounter with wilderness but it was a defining moment that set her on a path to realizing her passion for conserving the marine environment. In just six short years, Leah grew from student to teacher, and her plans to make a difference for the health of our oceans through research and educating the public have only just begun.


The Expedition Experience

Leah journeyed to the Arctic with Students on Ice as a 16-year-old student, passionate about the marine environment. Leah connected with SOI educators and oceanographers Dr. Don Walsh and Dr. Eric Galbraith during her 2008 Arctic Expedition, an experience that broadened her focus beyond marine biology to the field of oceanography.

Realizing Goals & Ambitions

The impact of Leah’s experience propelled her to do an honour’s degree in marine biology and oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, with a renewed focus on preserving our oceans. Leah discovered her interest in leveraging research for ocean conservation with her undergraduate thesis, which focused on the biogeochemical properties of Hudson Bay and how fluctuations in water temperature and acidity due to climate change will affect its marine environment.

“My experience on the expedition really opened my mind to seeing the ocean not as just organisms but how organisms and the water column and the chemistry and the physics are all interconnected. I have taken those connections and I am really interested in how, with climate change, those relationships are going to change in the future.”

“There was this one day in Isabella Bay when we came across 50 to 100 bowhead whales feeding in the bay! Having them so close to the boat and hearing their breath as they surfaced was an experience I will never forget.”

Making a Difference

After graduation, Leah accepted an internship in Raja Ampat, one of the most biodiverse marine regions in the world. Here, Leah leveraged her talent for research to inform local government and village elders on the status of their fragile ecosystem, reinforcing sustainable practices.This work was coupled with grassroots education in the villages, a rewarding experience that inspired a new passion for Leah as a teacher.

“Being able to show children, the next generation, pictures of what they are protecting and explaining the relationship between the marine life and the coral through hands-on experience builds in these children a passion for these ecosystems that will help ensure a healthy future.”

Looking Ahead

Leah is more convinced than ever to work towards ocean conservation by pairing oceanic field research with educational outreach. Since completing her undergraduate degree, she has been exploring the globe and conducting field work in the Rocky Mountains.

“This experience has been so inspiring and reignites the fire in me that started me down this path. I really fell in love with the ocean and knew that is what I wanted to do in my career when I was on the SOI expedition. I was the sponge, soaking up all their knowledge and to come full circle and be able to ignite that passion in these kids has been a true pleasure.”