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Heather Spalding

Heather SpaldingWhat is your Job description?

I am Ph.D student  at the University of Hawaii at Manoa studying phycology (the study of algae, or seaweed).

What do you study now?

I’m studying deep water macroalgae in Hawaii. By “deep water”, I mean everything from 100 to over 600 feet deep! I use Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), submersibles, SCUBA diving, and rebreathers to explore areas no one has ever seen and to discover new species of algae. I try to figure out what sorts of algae are growing where, how much grows in particular places and why, and what types of organisms, like fish or invertebrates, eat the algae or use it for habitat. Overall, you could say that I study deepwater macroalgal ecology and physiology. I’m particularly interested in a special type of calcified green algae called Halimeda. It forms vast meadows over the sand, like meadows of tall grass in a field. For more information on Halimeda and deepwater algae, see my websites at:

Heather Scuba DivingWhats the best thing about your job?

My favorite part of my job is when I’m SCUBA diving, and I’m descending from the top of the water to the ocean bottom. It’s so quiet underwater, and all I can hear is my breathing. When I first submerge and start sinking, I can’t quite see everything on the bottom. But as I get deeper and deeper, I start to see the different types of coral and macroalgae growing on the bottom below me. At that point, I know I’m in the right spot to do my work, and it’s exciting to be underwater and experiencing the wonders of the ocean first-hand.

What is the worst thing about your job?

I’d say the worst part is taking care of all the paperwork and reports. When I get funded to do my research, the funding agency providing the money wants updates on all the research I’m doing. Sometimes, I’d rather be in the field or in the laboratory collecting data than at my desk writing a report. However, I know it’s important to write the reports because it’s a good opportunity for me to look for trends in my data and summarize what I’ve done up to that point.

What inspired you to first study science?

I grew up on a small cattle farm in Kentucky, surrounded by animals, lakes, orchards, and tobacco fields. I even had my own goats. I was constantly immersed in nature, and loved being outside and understanding what made nature tick. My Mom would take me and my three sisters camping on the beach once a year, and being around the ocean was really thrilling. Ithink my love of nature from growing up on the farm and my excitement with the ocean inspired me to be a marine biologist. When I took my first class on algae in college, that pretty much sealed the deal, and I decided to be a phycologist. Who couldn’t love seaweed?!

Heather SpaldingWhat do you do in a typical day?

One thing that I love about what I do is that there’s no typical day. My work goes in spurts, revolving around working at my computer, collecting data in the field by diving or using submersibles (underwater submarines), or doing experiments in the laboratory. Sometimes I teach a class on algae or plants, and I really enjoy working with students.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a biologist?

If you’re interested in becoming a biologist, then I would encourage you to get out there and experience nature! Join a nature club, participate in summer programs, and especially take all the math, science, and technology classes you can. I’ve probably taken just as many math and chemistry classes as biology classes at this point- it’s all important!

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