Alumni Erin Spencer ’14 speaks at Homecoming Author Breakfast, introduces newly published children’s book

JAMIE HOLT // THE FLAT HAT

Saturday, Oct. 8, Alumnus of The College of William and Mary Erin Spencer ’14 gave a presentation on her background in marine biology, her current research on hammerhead sharks and the publication of her new children’s book, “The World of Coral Reefs. Spencer was at Earl Gregg Swem Library as part of the Mary Mitchel ’85 Homecoming Author Breakfast. 

Director of Communications and Strategic Planning for the College’s libraries Tami Back explained the backstory of how the Swem team chose Spencer to speak at the event.

“Myself and the Dean of Libraries went up to D.C. for an event that they were having in the William and Mary Washington Center and I saw Erin speak at that, and she talked about her experiences as a college student at William and Mary and what a wonderful experience she had. She had also mentioned that she wrote a children’s book, and immediately I thought, ‘Oh wow, she would be great to have for homecoming,’” Back said. 

Spencer shared her experience with direct field research in the Galapagos and told attendants a unique story about sea lions messing with the team’s equipment. Additionally, Spencer also talked about her first field experiment with the College during a summer course. 

“I think that’s how I knew this field was for me because at the end of the day, when you reek of fish, and you’re so tired, you’re still like, ‘That was such a great time!’” 

“I think that’s how I knew this field was for me because at the end of the day, when you reek of fish, and you’re so tired, you’re still like, ‘That was such a great time!’” Spencer said.  

Spencer also explained how marine biologists conduct their research both in the lab and out in the field. As Spencer discussed in her presentation, these various research methods  can be used for marine conservation. 

During one of Spencer’s research processes, she attached fitness activity trackers to the bodies of hammerhead sharks to gather data. Spencer and her team used the data to learn how fast these sharks travel, how much energy they need to consume and what they hunt to sustain themselves. The data gathered by scientists such as Spencer help conserve endangered species like the hammerhead shark. Spencer detailed how every day of her job differs, depending on the conditions of the water and the overall experience of every journey. 

“It was a three-hour journey between these two sites, and the conditions were so rough that we had to wedge ourselves in between the supplies and the side of the boat so we wouldn’t go overboard,” Spencer said.

Spencer also emphasized the importance of marine conservation within international and local communities. Spencer encourages the distribution of data and research to communities to ‘bring the ocean to them.’ 

This notion motivated Spencer to write a nonfiction children’s book on the animals in coral reefs, titled “The World of Coral Reefs”, published in March 2022. Spencer wants her book to be used as an educational resource. 

“One of the things that I have really noticed about kids is that they know a lot more about the ocean than people give them credit for.They are sponges of information.” 

“One of the things that I have really noticed about kids is that they know a lot more about the ocean than people give them credit for,” Spencer said. “They are sponges of information.” 

The World of Coral Reefs” details the ecology and biology of coral reefs. The book describes predator and prey relationships and symbiotic relationships, as well as coral production and habitats within the coral reefs. These components are tied together with beautiful illustrations done by Alexandria Neonakis.  

Spencer described some of the marine animals mentioned in her new book, including the black tip reef shark, the blue ringed octopus, invertebrates such as toxic and non-toxic nudibranchs, the frogfish, and the hawksbill sea turtle. 

The presentation ended with a Q&A from the audience. The audience members included students and alumni who attended as a part of the College’s Homecoming Weekend celebration. 

“I am a recent graduate, and really I was excited to hear from another alumnus, especially a woman in marine science, and actually, my partner is involved in marine science and I have been passionate about that in the past few years. And, especially, knowing how much the oceans are being polluted and destroyed every single day and learning more about coral reefs is something that I think that everyone, especially young children, should do,” Jeanette Lynchburg ’22 said. 

Spencer stayed at Swem for a brief period after the presentation to sign copies of her book for the audience members. 

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