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

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

About Heather

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Heather Ruth Spence, PhD
Marine Biologist, Musician, Composer


Current Positions:

Marine and Science Advisor, supporting U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO)

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

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

Co-Founder and President, GRACIASS

Co-Leader, Ocean Memory Project


Recent Recognition:

2020 Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Annual Outstanding Achievement Award

2017-2019 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow

2017 NAKFI Fellow to Djerassi Resident Artists Program


Heather R. Spence, PhD resume 2020.docx



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.

For over a decade I have been working with scientists and politicians in Mexico and the US, to promote my vision of International Sustainability Centers headquartered in Cancun, MX, to foster research and cooperation, bringing together diverse stakeholders to find mutually beneficial solutions for protecting the environment while promoting responsible development.


Heather Spence uses science and art to harmonize human-environment interactions. Her expertise and problem solving include developing new methods of studying living decapod crustacea, reducing noise pollution in dolphin habitats, innovating documentation of the MesoAmerican Reef, predicting aquatic invasive species dispersal, assisting shellfish aquaculture, examining coselection of communicatory traits, and deciphering nocturnal behavior of marine animals. She has designed and taught courses on animal behavior, behavioral neuroendocrinology, sensation and perception, personality, and motivation, and she continues educational outreach as a consultant for video games. Her Passive Acoustic Monitoring program on the MesoAmerican Reef is featured in the award-winning microdocumentary World of Sound (https://vimeo.com/thestillsagency/worldofsound), and is explored in her composition for viola da gamba trio, Vale la Pena? (Is it worth it?) derived from a technical study commissioned by the Mexican government (https://vdgsa.org/pgs/music_a.html#NEWMUSIC). She composes music inspired by, and inspiring, conservation and performs internationally as a cellist and gambist. (www.HeatherSpence.net)

— Previous Research —

(Further publications available on my ResearchGate profile)

The Importance of Bioacoustics for Dolphin Welfare:  Soundscape Characterization with Implications for Management (Doctoral dissertation, CUNY Graduate Center)

Passive acoustic monitoring of nocturnal fish sounds in Quintana Roo, Mexico (Bulletin of Marine Science 2017)

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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