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

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

Earth Day 2017

 1. the planet on which we live; the world.
Today, we celebrate all life with explicit recognition of the abundance and opportunities our planet provides. Let each of us take at least a few moments today to reflect on how fortunate we are and consider how we can strengthen our communities and ecosystems.
michelle gardner quinn quote
Bookmark and Share

Sound Walk for Dolphin Day

Celebrate Dolphin Day by going on a sound walk!


Sound is central to dolphin lives. They use sound not only for communication, but also to “see” using echolocation!

You can learn more about sound in the environment and have a good time by going on a Sound Walk:

Choose a location. Any location. Alone or with a group.
Close your eyes and listen to any sounds you hear.
Now open your eyes and move to another nearby location. Do the same thing.
What sounds are the same? What sounds are different?
Try to describe the sounds. What is the source of the sound? What does the sound “sound” like?
What sounds are produced by living creatures? By machines?
Which sounds seem pleasant? Unpleasant?

Keep going as long as you can! You can also try multiple locations, indoors or outdoors.

You’ll be amazed at the things you discover when you actively focus on the wealth of sonic information that is all around us!

Spread the word and raise awareness of noise pollution and the importance of sound to dolphins!

Bookmark and Share

Sound and the Sea panel at National Academy of Sciences

In March I had the honor and privilege to curate and moderate a panel on Sound and the Sea at the National Academy of Sciences, as part of the DASER series. Bringing together science, music, policy and more we explored the ocean as a world of sound and how we can better respect and listen to it.

Videos of the presentations are now up on you tube -check them out!

Bookmark and Share

Cancun Fish party at night!

My latest publication, released today online in the Bulletin of Marine Science (available here as an open access article), describes Passive Acoustic Monitoring of fish off the coast of Cancun, and finds that their sounds are more frequent, persistent, and diverse at night versus during the day. This is crucial information for environmental management, which currently relies on daytime visual survey data. Nocturnal fish sounds are important!

Fish Silhouette Clip Art

Bookmark and Share


Check out the new GRACIASS website, www.graciass.net
And please follow GRACIASS on facebook and twitter!


Bookmark and Share

20th Anniversary of Marine Protected Areas in Cancun, Mexico

Dra. Heather SpenceAn excellent time for the intersection of science and art!

This week I am in Cancun celebrating World Listening Day 2016 and the 20th Anniversary of “Parque Nacional Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancun y Punta Nizuc.” On Wedneday, July 20th, I presented at the official ceremony of the National Park held at the Ka’yok Planetarium in Cancun. My talk entitled “Sounds of the Reef” covered my work documenting the local soundscape and steps to mitigate noise pollution. To close the event, I gave a recital in which I performed the world premier of “Sonidos del Arrecife,” a work for solo cello and a soundtrack using underwater recordings.

Dra Heather Spence


Followed by some collaboration with the talented Daniel Gallo: ocean-themed cello – ukelele duos with excellent audience participation!

Heather Spence Daniel Gallo

Bookmark and Share

Finding Dory – Not A Fish You Want At Home

Dory is a Pacific Regal Blue Tang – one of several blue tang fishes, none of which you want to bring home with you.

Her scientific name is Paracanthurus hepatus. Scientific names help us to be clear about which species we are talking about, since fish have different common names in different regions and languages.

Canadian Radio Interview with Dr. Heather Spence about Finding Dory and marine conservation



“Dory” fish facts:

– can grow to about a foot long – a challenge for home aquariums

– live in saltwater exclusively

– eat a lot of algae which is important for coral reef health, since the fish help keep the coral from getting smothered by the algae

– have small but dangerous tail spines

– do not thrive in captivity
Some fish are bred in captivity, like “Nemo” fish or clownfish, but blue tangs are not bred in captivity.

Any “Dory” fish you see in stores are caught in the wild

The methods used to capture the fish in the wild are very destructive and include pouring poison into the ocean. These fish are important for coral reef health so removing them is a problem.

It is wasteful to take them from the ocean because they do not survive long in captivity.
Do not buy these fish! You will be encouraging the stores to capture more.

If you hear of someone who is thinking about buying a “Dory” please encourage them NOT to invest money into a short-lived and destructive practice, and instead support marine conservation efforts.



Bookmark and Share

Manatee Appreciation Day

ManateeHappy Manatee Appreciation Day!

Manatees are marine mammals in the Order Sirenia – named after Greek mythological Sirens. These herbivorous, aquatic ‘sea cows’ spend much of their time eating and sleeping. Slow moving, curious, and with high-frequency hearing, they are very vulnerable to being hit by boats with low-frequency motors. Special care should be taken when boating in manatee habitat.

Bookmark and Share

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)


Bookmark and Share

2016 – Futuristic hope

Worried about the state of our global ecosystem? Already 2016 is off to a good start with 5 forward-looking, inspiring events that took place in DC. They provide a hopeful glimpse at what’s to come in the not-so-distant future:


Feb 5 @ Inter-American Development Bank (IDB): “Colombia 2030: A Sustainable and Peaceful Future”

This morning the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, beautifully described his vision for prioritizing education to reach ambitious yet possible goals


Feb 4 @ Inter-American Development Bank (IDB): “It’s disruption time! How the collaborative economy is transforming world economies”

Robin Chase, Founder of ZipCar, and Luis Alberto Moreno, IDB President, discussed how ‘excess capacity’ – e.g., cars sitting unused – means opportunity for business and sustainability. Why should people invest in having only one job, when having several jobs provides more job satisfaction, diversity and security? If you think this is abstract futuristic talk, you should have heard the IDB employee’s enthusiasm. There will still be roles for institutions, but they will play adapted roles.


Feb 4 @ Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences: “Social media tour of Sentient Chamber”

Hosted by Alana Quinn of CPNAS, Philip Beesley led a tour of his art installation “Sentient Chamber” which explores human-nature interactions with whispers, subtlety and mesmerizing fractals that draw you in to their enveloping tentacles and visions of a more gentle future.


Feb 4 @ Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences: “Ideation, Translation, and Realization: DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER)”

What is creativity? How do we use it to promote a sustainable future? Rich discussion included recognition of a need to provide opportunities for slow, complex, fragile, inter-disciplinary explorations, both in school and in the workplace

Presenters: Kimberly Suda-Blake (Senior Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative); David A. Edwards (Founder and Director, Le Laboratoire); Richard N. Foster (Co-Chair, Presidents’ Circle of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine); Patricia Olynyk (Director, Graduate School of Art, Washington University); Philip Beesley (Director, Living Architecter Systems Group); JD Talasek (Director, Cultural Programs, National Academy of Sciences)


Jan 29 @ Georgetown University/ Indigenous Delegation “The Invisible Killer – Radioactive Pollution in Unsuspected Places”

Even Snowzilla couldn’t get this group down. Native American and #CleanUpTheMines representatives gathered to raise awareness about thousands of hazardous abandoned uranium mines throughout the United States and promote a stronger bonds between human groups and with nature


For more pictures: https://www.instagram.com/heathers2pence/ 


Bookmark and Share

« Previous Entries Next Entries »