Heather Spence, Marine Biologist
Orchestrating Coastal Marine Ecology Investigation and Outreach

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

Ocean Memory Project

The Ocean Memory Project won the NAKFI Challenge!

 Ocean Memory



Sept. 4, 2018


National Academies Keck Futures Initiative Announces Winners of the NAKFI Challenge

WASHINGTON — The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) is pleased to announce the recipients of three $500,000 NAKFI Challenge awards. A 15-year, $40 million dollar program funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, NAKFI was initiated in 2003 to break down barriers between fields and to promote interdisciplinary research. The NAKFI Challenge awards support activities that will carry forward NAKFI’s work beyond its 15 years as an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Open only to NAKFI alumni who participated in the program’s annual interdisciplinary conferences, the call for proposals generated 78 applications. Applications underwent a round of peer-to-peer community judging by fellow applicants. The 30 highest scoring proposals were then judged by an expert panel consisting of members of NAKFI conference organizing committees. The three winners were chosen by the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine.

The recipients, with NAKFI alumni in bold, and their project titles are:

Jody Deming, University of Washington
* Fiscal agent for grant, Djerassi Residents Artists Program
Daniel Kohn, Kohnworkshop
Heather R. Spence, Marine & Bioacoustics Programs, Michelle’s Earth Foundation (GRACIASS)
Jonathan Berger, Stanford University
Timothy J. Broderick, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Margot H. Knight, Djerassi Residents Artists Program
Timothy W. Weaver, University of Denver
Ocean Memory: A New Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Global-Scale Challenges
Memory involves the recall of events, pruned and processed from countless recordings by neural networks and thereby shaping future behavior. The ocean and its inhabitants hold memories of events throughout the evolution of the planet, awaiting our cognition. This proposal established a thriving community exploring and expressing Ocean Memory, a new line of highly evocative scientific inquiry , aiming for a sea change in our ability to address challenges of the Anthropocene. The approach builds upon NAKFI best practices, spanning disciplines required to address agents of memory and adding novel elements of distributed interactive spaces and grants for cross-disciplinary mentoring.

For more info check out:
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When Sharks Attack: Mayhem in Mexico

Catch Marine Biologist Dr. Heather Spence on Nat Geo Wild’s show When Sharks Attack: Season 4 Episode 5 “Mayhem in Mexico” in which she explores the impact of sound on shark behavior.

Heather Spence Mexico NatGeoWild

Don’t let the name of the show put you off – there’s a lot of good info and pro shark messaging! #SharkWeek #SharkFest #FriendsOfSharks

Watch it here

Heather Spence National Geographic


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Lubchenco: “Hope for people and the Ocean” at National Academy of Sciences

Yesterday, Jane Lubchenco addressed a rapt audience at the Arthur M. Sackler Colloqiua of the National Academy of Sciences on “Coupled Human and Environmental Systems.”

Her talk, entitled “Enough with the doom and gloom! Holistic approaches bring hope for people and the environment” focused on success stories in fisheries management and Marine Protected Area regulations.IMG_20160314_180912765


Her message isn’t sugar coating – there are plenty of challenges and motivations to be worked out. Yet through top-down and bottom-up approaches, significant improvements can be made. For example, some fish stocks are increasing. Scale-able solutions need to be identified. Get involved, and stay hopeful.

For more on the role of hope in environmental management –

Smithsonian article by Dr. Nancy Knowlton: Why we have trouble talking about success in ocean conservation 

Paper I wrote about Hope and Environmental Management in Cancun (in Spanish)


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Ecological Acoustic Recorder Deployed in Mexico

Mexico Bioacoustics Project deployed the Ecological Acoustic Recorder (EAR) off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula! Check out some pictures below!

Thank you to the deployment team, from Project Domino, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the Mexican Government (CONANP), and the many scientists who collaborated with me to get my project this far. More than two years of planning and fundraising have been necessary to reach this major milestone.

This Project, to study the sounds of animals, including crustaceans, fish and marine mammals, is a step toward developing new ways to monitor the health of coastal ecosystems. It is part of my vision to establish an international center for sustainability studies in Cancun, Mexico.

The Bioacoustics Project is made possible by Michelle’s Earth Foundation, in partnership with Oceanwide Science Institute.

You can help!
-Offer your special skills to the project (translation, diving, computer, acoustics, website, etc.)
-Suggest or comment, by email or on my website.
-Encourage others to get involved.
-Make a donation to the Bioacoustics Project through Michelle’s Earth Foundation.
-Listen to your world, tell me what you hear.


The EAR was deployed off of Isla Contoy, an island near Cancun, Mexico that is protected by the federal government as a bird sanctuary. This area is a bridge between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican Caribbean/MesoAmerican Reef System – highly diverse, and an important migration route.

Isla Contoy, view from observation tower

Ecological Acoustic Recorder, being prepared for deployment

Deployment team inspects potential deployment area

Moving the mooring for the EAR

Ecological Acoustic Recorder, secured to mooring on sea floor

Returning after successful EAR deployment

Photo credits: Don Hodges, Patricia Gray, Heather Spence

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Stay Tuned Network

Now there is a facebook group set up for the Stay Tuned Network!  I hope this will give us another forum for discussion.  Let me know what you think and…. stay tuned.

Stay Tuned Network Facebook Group

Stay Tuned Network Facebook Group

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STN October 14

The STAY TUNED network:
News, events, research, opinions and opportunities in coastal conservation, sustainability, soundscapes, nature, and music

October 14, 2008

1) Why did the crab cross the road?
2) Invasive species – two wrongs don’t make a right
3) Concerts for causes


The crab Cardisoma guanhumi, commonly called “Cangrejo azul” or “Blue Land-Crab,” can be found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, down to South America. They grow to be pretty big, with their body the size of your fist. When they aren’t out foraging, mating, or migrating, they hide away in their burrows. However, they can be drawn from their burrow to investigate the sound of falling fruit and leaves (C. guanhumi is sensitive to very small vibrations, 10-1500Hz 70dB). While not much is known about their lifespan, they are hypothesized to live longer than other crabs based on the fact that they grow more slowly. (*stay tuned* for more on animal time scales!)

So why did the crab cross the road?
During the rainy season, at the full moon, the females mass migrate to the shore to release their eggs into the ocean. The larvae when they hatch develop in the ocean, and return to shore as juveniles to continue the life cycle. In developed areas such as Cancun, Mexico, roads and other construction block passage of the crabs. So there is a community protection campaign to help the crabs cross the road! Every night during the peak migration days in September and October local kids and their parents go out with buckets and flashlights, helping the crabs. Having just passed the full moon, tonight there should be a lot of crabs!

For the nerds out there, classification of the crab –

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Arthropoda Class: Malacostraca Order: Decapoda Suborder: Pleocyemata Family: Gecarcinidae Genus: Cardisoma Species: Cardisoma guanhumi

(more info: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cardisoma_guanhumi.html; http://www.sms.si.edu/IRLSpec/Cardis_guanhu.htm)


Invasive species are bad…. right? So why would we offer them as solutions to environmental problems, such as introducing non-native oysters to remedy the problems associated with the decline in the native oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay? Especially when we have no way of knowing what the long term and widespread impacts would be?

Despite pressures to introduce invasive species, on purpose, as a “solution” to environmental problems – some scientists and conservation groups are making a clear case for, instead, supporting the natural environment and the native species.

Check out this article: http://www.prweb.com/releases/Chesapeake_Bay/Foundation/prweb1471534.htm

Please feel free to post comments and opinions about this issue through my website blog, or e-mail them to me and I will post them (anonymously, if you like)


Music moves people, and concerts are a popular way of gaining attention, and funds, for causes.

On Oct 22, in Cancun, I will be playing with Orquesta Vivace and Coro de Cancun in a concert supporting the Mexican national “teleton.”

In November, I am charged with organizing the music for the inauguration of National Conservation Week. I’m thinking to try to get the kids who wrote songs for earth day to come and perform, as well as bring together various singer and musician friends.
It was, in fact, at last year’s National Conservation Week event that I first got in touch with the community of musicians here, when I talked to the flute player and he said they were looking for a cellist!


Let me know what you think, and if you know someone who would like to be included in the network.

^ ^
“stay tuned!”

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