Listening for Coastal Futures

The Coastal Futures Conservatory (CFC) integrates arts and humanities into the investigation of coastal change. Working with scientists at the Virginia Coast Reserve, an NSF-supported Long-Term Ecological Research site, the Conservatory aims to deepen understanding and stimulate imagination by opening ways to listen to the dynamics reshaping coasts. Listen to an interview with Coastal Conservatory members in this profile. 

The Conservatory is a member of the Humanities for Environment Observatories and is funded by a Mellon Foundation Grant through the Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia, the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation, and the Environmental Resilience Institute at UVA.


Matthew Burtner

Co-Director Matthew Burtner is an Alaskan-born composer, sound artist and eco-acoustician whose music and research explores embodiment, ecology, polytemporality and noise.

Willis Jenkins

Co-Director Willis Jenkins is Convener of Environmental Humanities at UVA and Professor of Religious Studies.

Karen McGlathery

Co-Director Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences; Director, Environmental Resilience Institute Karen is Lead Investigator of the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) Long Term Ecological Research Program at UVA’s coastal research lab on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Beth Roach

Public Fellow Beth Roach is a storyteller, climate action organizer, and surfer who is enrolled in the Nottoway Indian Tribe of VA and serves on Tribal Council. Her background is rooted in work with Virginia State Parks and the James River Watershed, and she serves as vice-chair on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.

Peter Berg

Core Team Peter Berg is a Research Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. His research focuses on metabolism and oxygen dynamics of underwater ecosystems.

Becky Brown

Core Team Becky Brown is a composer, harpist, artist, and graduate student in Composition and Computer Technologies at the University of Virginia. Project: Listening to the Virginia Barrier Islands.

Daniel Fishkin

Core Team Daniel Fishkin is a composer, sound artist, instrument builder and PhD Candidate in Composition and Computer Music at the University of Virginia.

Adrienne Ghaly

Core Team Adrienne Ghaly is a Research Specialist in Environmental Humanities at UVA working on labs in water futures, climate equity and ethics, and planetary pressures on sacred sites.

Cora Johnston

Core Team Cora Johnston is site director of the Coastal Research Center. Her background is in the community ecology of changing coastal systems and she directs the VCR-LTER’s outreach and education programs and serves as liaison to the Eastern Shore community.

Matt Reidenbach

Core Team My primary area of research is environmental fluid dynamics, with an emphasis on fluid-biological interactions in coastal environments. Project: Coastal Soundscapes and Oyster Reef Health

Charlotte Rogers

Core Team Charlotte Rogers is Associate Professor of Spanish in the department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Her research examines representations of the tropics in contemporary Latin American literature and culture, often with an ecocritical focus. Project: The Power of the Arts in the Hurricane Zone

Jonathan Cannon

Former Fellow Jonathan Cannon is the Blaine T. Phillips Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he also serves as director of the law school’s environmental and land use law program.

Andrew Kahrl

Former Fellow Associate Professor of History and African American Studies Area of research: coastal land use, real estate development, and conservation in the 20th century US Project: “(Don’t) Drain the Swamp: Resort Development, Wetlands Protection, and the Politics of Growth on the Delmarva Peninsula”

Christopher Luna-Mega

Former Fellow Christopher Luna-Mega is a composer and improviser. Born in the United States and raised in Mexico City, he studied Composition at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México –UNAM (B.M.) and Mills College (M.A.), as well as Film/Communication Theory at the Universidad Iberoamericana –UIA, Mexico City (B.A.).

Eli Stine

Former Fellow Eli Stine is a composer, programmer, and educator. Stine is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Oberlin Conservatory. Project: Coastal Soundscapes and Oyster Reef Health

Martin Volaric

Former Fellow My PhD research focuses on the oxygen metabolism and hydrodynamics of intertidal ecosystems on the Virginia coast, particularly oyster reefs. Project: Coastal Soundscapes and Oyster Reef Health

Kathleen King

Core Team Kathleen King is a  graduate student in Critical and Comparative Studies in Music at the University of Virginia. Project: Soundscapes of Restoration.

Why call our project a conservatory?

The CFC is a member of the North American Environmental Humanities Observatory. We pivot from the ocular metaphor of the observatory to the aural metaphor of conservatory in order to emphasize our focus on listening. Sharing a semantic root with “conservation,” a conservatory usually means a school of music or a greenhouse. The Coastal Futures Conservatory draws on all meanings: a school of music that teaches participants how to listen to and compose with the living world, a school of science that connects conservation with culture, and a school of living that cultivates a wide range of cultural capacities to respond to changing Earth.

What does it mean to listen for coastal futures?

Listening is a form of inquiry that can immerse hearers in a living environment and connect people across boundaries. The Conservatory organizes collaborative inquiry around listening in three ways:

  • to environmental sound through field recordings and designed listening stations
  • to the sciences of coastal change, by sonifying data, composing with it, and creating public events in which audiences can interact with research
  • to one another, across disciplines and cultures, as we seek to understand coastal futures from multiple ways of knowing

Thanks to Max Castorani (Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences at UVA) for the drone photography of the Virginia Coastal Reserve.

Coastal Conservatory