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“The Listener” — merging art and science to take the pulse of Cancun’s Coral Reefs

Heather Spence is excited to be working with Jason deCaires Taylor to develop an underwater sculpture into a science lab. Spence, a Marine Biologist, is the founder of GRACIASS (Global Research and Art Center for the Investigation and Advancement of Sustainability Solutions). Her research program in Cancun began in 2007, and in 2010 expanded to include the first Passive Acoustic Monitoring in the Mexican Caribbean. “The Listener” is the result of a long collaboration between Spence and Taylor to find a way to incorporate her underwater sound research into his reef-forming sculpture.

The Listener in Jason's Studio
Jason deCaires Taylor working on The Listener sculpture in his studio

Spence explains, “By combining the art of sculpture and the science of sound, our project helps people to connect to the environment.” “The Listener” is covered with models of real human ears and actually listens… to fish. Fitted with NOAA-designed equipment, “The Listener” will provide much-needed data about sea life and coral reef development. Located within a marine protected area off the coast of Cancun, “The Listener” is designed to gradually become a new reef, and provides a fascinating alternative destination for divers.

In the waters surrounding Cancun, pressures from development, tourism, and shipping threaten the second largest coral reef system in the world. GRACIASS is finding creative ways to ease adverse impacts and promote healthy ecosystems. Amid the doom and gloom outlooks on our seas, beaches, and coral reefs, Heather Spence is an optimistic voice, stating, “Where humans are the problem, we can also be the solution!” And according to Spence, solutions will likely be cheaper, easier and more efficient. A noisy machine wastes energy in the form of sound; a more quiet machine operates more efficiently and reduces noise pollution. While many scientists seek research sites far from human development, Spence embraces the challenge and necessity of studying densely populated coastal areas. She favors acoustic monitoring because it is minimally disruptive and does not require a human presence. It is very cost-effective and can gather data night and day, in all weather.

Collaborators include sponsoring partner the BioMusic Research Group at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, Oceanwide Science Institute of Hawaii, Michelle’s Earth Foundation, and local Cancun partners Universidad del Caribe, Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas and Proyecto Domino.



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