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

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

Heather’s Bio

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Heather Ruth Spence
Marine Biologist, Musician

Director, Marine and Bioacoustics Programs, Michelle’s Earth Foundation

Director, International Research and Outreach, Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas, Mexico

PhD candidate, Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program and  New Media Lab at the City University of New York

** Heather Spence CV as PDF **

After completing my undergraduate and masters degrees (BS Biology GWU, MS Marine Biology UMassD), the Mexican National Parks office invited me to Cancun to develop research and environmental education projects in support of local conservation efforts. These projects included presenting to the local schools and other groups, writing and distributing my new book Marine Life of the Mexican Caribbean, and investigating the spiny lobster and other organisms in the natural and artificial reefs. Realizing the need for baseline data, and networking to find win-win sustainable solutions, I initiated GRACIASS, a global center for investigating and promoting sustainable solutions. My current research explores monitoring coastal ecosystems and marine animals by listening to them via passive acoustic monitoring, a non-intrustive, low-cost method for collecting 24-7 baseline data that can be compared across time and regions.

My projects and vision incorporate music and science to promote creative, integrative, win-win approaches to dealing with seeming conflicts between humans and our coastal environments. Exploring animal communication, physical consonances and dissonances of vibrations, expression through music and instruments by humans and other animals – these are fundamental patterns to examine in order to better understand and live in sustainable harmony with our environment.

— Previous Research —

Comparisons of morphology, development and behavior, including acoustic, of live snapping shrimps, of the species Alpheus heterochaelis, A. angulosus and A. estuariensis, from North Carolina and Florida:

Spence, H.R. and R.E. Knowlton. 2008. “Morphological and developmental differences in three species of the snapping shrimp genus Alpheus (Crustacea, Decapoda).” Southeastern Naturalist. Vol.7 No.2 pp207-218 Download PDF (17 MB)

Article “Dr. Robert E Knowlton: Considering the Coastal Acoustic Carpet” in Winter 2008 Soundscape Journal p. 24-25 (PDF)

Investigation of recruitment of the invasive crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus and other crabs in Southeastern New England, and analysis of factors related to shellfish aquaculture (through fieldwork, citizen science collaborations with shellfish farmers, and dispersal modeling):

Identification guide for early stage crabs available here as PDF

Full Masters Thesis available through the UMass Dartmouth Library

Science education research:

Spence, H.R. 2011. Reflections of an undergraduate teaching associate. Atlas Journal of Science Education. 1 (2): 43-45. PDF Updated PDF

— Outreach —

Research and outreach go hand in hand, as the results of ecological exploration are shared and feedback feeds further investigations. Learning and spreading information through collaborations with scientists and non-scientists are particularly gratifying. In my presentations, from scientific conference talks to elementary school workshops, reaching out to various audiences has lead me to employ stringed instruments, unicycles, swords, puppets and more. To give a talk or workshop at your school/business/association send me an e-mail.

— Music —

My work as a musician and composer connects with my work as a marine biologist. My primary instruments are cello, viola da gamba, and piano. Some of my compositions can be heard on you tube (www.youtube.com/heatherruthspence).

“¿Vale la Pena?” is a composition of mine inspired by working on Mesoamerican reef conservation. For Viola da Gamba trio, it is available through the Viola da Gamba Society of America:

“This composition is a wake-up call to action, drawn from my conservation work in Mexico on the MesoAmerican Reef. The title question refers to putting our efforts toward finding solutions that make it possible to continue to live on the Earth. This is explored through interactions of the three parts, representing different economic, social and environmental perspectives. They are at times struggling for balance, at times supportive. Theatrical descriptors encourage players to dramatize their parts and communicate with each other, and the audience. At the end, the three parts come together, maintaining their individuality while collaborating in synchrony. The last pizz. is a resolution of the middle part, by returning from the B flat to the G that had been maintained in the 1st and 3rd parts — a hopeful agreement is thus achieved.”


Heather Spence photo




Photos: Cory Giacobbe, Patricia Gray

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