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Women Divers Hall of Fame Awards 2024 Scholarships and Grants

Every year, WDHOF honors and raises awareness of the contributions of outstanding women divers
By Bethany Augliere | Published On March 22, 2024
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Women Divers Hall of Fame Awards 2024 Scholarships and Grants

WDHOF awardee and marine biologist Jessica Pate removes fishing line while swimming with a manta

Bethany Augliere

Forty-seven divers from 14 countries were recently awarded grants and scholarships by the Women Divers Hall of Fame (WDHOF) to advance their careers.

WDHOF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring and raising awareness of the contributions of outstanding women divers. Beginning in 2002, every year it awards grants and scholarships to individuals in the diving community around the world to provide education, financial and career assistance.

WDHOF offers two types of awards: scholarships provide support for research in several marine related fields; grants provide funding to learn to dive or continue dive education. Biomedical marine researcher and scholarship chair Shirley Pomponi, Ph.D., explains “these opportunities, especially the number of dive training grants we offer each year, don’t exist elsewhere.” Since its inception, WDHOF has awarded over half a million dollars to 471 individuals.

Ashlynn White from Scotland is one of the forty-seven recipients of the 2024 WDHOF scholarships.

Courtesy Ashlynn

This year, there was a record number of applicants and a total of $57,000 awarded. “The word has gotten out that these opportunities are available,” Pomponi says. “We had a very diverse applicant pool—not only from the U.S. but also from many other countries, and the applicants are all so qualified. We’d love to offer more grants.”

One grant recipient is Ashlynn White from Scotland, who is pursuing a master’s degree in ecology from the University of Glasgow, though she says her passion for the ocean began at a young age. She now researches sea snails (genus Drupella) that feed on living corals, and her thesis centers on how they respond to increasing temperatures.

“She is excited to use this grant to travel to French Polynesia, where she will collaborate at the Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE) lab to conduct her research,” according to a press release by WDHOF. White was awarded the Graduate Marine Conservation Scholarship worth $2,000, sponsored by WDHOF Member Meg Donat.

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Nawras Abbes from Tunisia is a second-year doctoral student at the University of Tunis El Manar who researches coral genetics and ecology along the Tunisian coast. She received the Ocean Wishes Scholarship to support the sampling component of her work, as she is both a certified diver and member of the Tabarka Diving Club.

Recognizing the significance of responsible environmental practices, Abbes advocates for positive local impact, “ensuring future generations enjoy thriving marine life while coexisting harmoniously with the environment,” she said in a statement.

Courtesy, Colleen Hecker

Where Are They Now?

Jessica Pate, a manta ray biologist who founded the Florida Manta Project, was the 2018 recipient of the Morgan/O’Neill Underwater Photography Grant, sponsored by Erin O’Neill and Frank Boulanger. She regularly uses photography and videography to document and study the large rays off the east coast of Florida, noting “the WDHOF grant allowed me to take two photography workshops that greatly improved my skills, which are critical to my manta research and conservation efforts.”

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Chelsea Bennice, Ph.D., a marine biologist also known as “Octo-Girl” in the diving community, received the Elizabeth Greenhalgh Memorial Scholarship in Journalism, Graphic Arts, or Photography, sponsored by Deb Greenhalgh Lubas in 2017. Bennice, who currently works as a postdoctoral fellow at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Marine Science Laboratory, works to bridge the gap between scientists and the community. She oversees public education, outreach projects and student mentoring in the Glenn W. and Cornelia T. Bailey Marine SEA Scholars (Science, Education and Arts) program at FAU.

a scuba diver taking a photo of an octopus

Bennice taking a photo of an octopus at the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida

Courtesy, Maggie Birdwell

“Receiving this scholarship allowed me to develop underwater photography and videography skills, which are instrumental for myw research in animal behavior and communicating science to the general public,” Bennice said. “To photograph an animal in its natural state you must be calm, in control and aware of your surroundings. Learning this has made me a better recreational and scientific diver. Being able to communicate science through storytelling with photos has advanced my career in scientific outreach, research and being a mentor for young scientists.”

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