Research Scholarships

The American Academy of Underwater Sciences awards two $3000 research scholarships to graduate students, one Master's program student and one Ph.D. candidate, engaged in, or planning to begin, a research project in which diving is or will be used as a principal research tool or yo study scientific diving.

The AAUS may also award two additional $1500 scholarships to the next two proposals that are ranked the highest. If the additional scholarships are awarded, they may be split between the Master's program and the Ph.D. program, or they may be both awarded within a single program.  *Please note that persons are not eligible to compete for more than one AAUS scholarship per year, excluding the Kevin Flanagan Travel Award.

Proposal deadline is June 30.

Scholarship winners are announced October 1.

Current Scholars

Doctoral-level Awards

1st place
Austin Greene
University of Hawaii,  Manoa/HIMB.
Predation on coral recruits differs among species and across depth gradients, driving differences in community structure between shallow and mesophotic coral reefs.

I am a second-year PhD student studying Zoology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Growing up I spent many weekends at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which nurtured a deep curiosity in me about marine organisms and their biology. At the age of eight I asked my parents if I could become SCUBA certified, but it wasn’t until a decade later that the dream became a reality in a murky, cold lake. I absolutely loved it, and went on to complete my BSc in Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of California, Davis, becoming an AAUS Scientific Diver under the guidance of Jason Herum at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. While completing my MSc in Texas I studied habitat complexity and carbon storage of seagrass meadows in Texas’ Lower Laguna Madre, and developed methods to acoustically monitor these fragile habitats. I also had the opportunity to help build artificial reef structures and dive on derelict oil rig platforms. In these ways diving has defined my adult life, and I hope it will continue to define my career as a scientist.

While studying for my PhD I have been fortunate to participate on a NOAA expedition to Jarvis Atoll, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef. Observing differences in the diversity and health of these remote coral communities in contrast to those of the main Hawaiian Islands has led me to think critically about the selective forces which mediate coral community structure and how these drivers might change over environmental gradients. In particular, I am very curious about the mortality of corals in the first year immediately after settlement and how this might change along the shallow to mesophotic depth range. Observing corals in-situ at such early life stages is technologically difficult even on shallow reefs, yet these insights are critical to effective modeling and management. Similarly, our understanding of ecological processes in mesophotic coral communities is sparse. The availability of a rebreather program at the University of Hawaii Diving Safety Program will enable me to complete a rigorous ecological study of coral post-settlement selection along a complete shallow to mesophotic gradient. I expect this research to not only clarify differences in post-settlement selection between shallow and mesophotic habitats, but also highlight the potential for these interactions to drive changes in community structure along this unique and understudied range of habitat. My hope is that these results will further encourage in-situ ecological studies of early coral life stages, and provide valuable insight for the improved management of Hawaii’s shallow and mesophotic coral reefs.


2nd place
Marta Gómez-Buckley
University of Washington.
Assessing biodiversity, community structure, and reef connectivity of cryptic coral reef fishes in two central south Pacific archipelagos.

I was certified as a SCUBA diver in 1990 as an undergraduate in marine science in the Canary Islands, Spain, and have conducted diving research in the Canary Islands, Puget Sound, Alaska, the Caribbean, Fiji, and Palau. After I received my MS degree in 2000 from the University of Washington, my aspiration to continue onto a PhD was replaced by my desire to stay home and raise my daughter. During this period, I became a naturalized US citizen. Through volunteering at my daughter’s schools, I became interested in teaching science, and received teaching certification in 2008. My experiences teaching high school science and Spanish for eight years influenced me to pursue a PhD degree in marine biology. The current combination of underwater field research, laboratory work, data analysis, teaching, and communicating my research to non-scientists, are providing me with a well-rounded set of skills that are highly applicable to my degree. I am in the second year of my PhD program at the university of Washington, and I will be completing the now required AAUS Scientific Diving Certification, so I can participate in upcoming research expeditions to the two main locations for my research, the Kingdom of Tonga and American Samoa.

During October 2016, I conducted a pilot study for my research in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, and in March-April 2017 went back for a follow-up research expedition. The success of my visits to Vava’u established very broad and strong partnerships for long-term collaboration with the local government and NGOs. I have also initiated similar contacts in American Samoa with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, in preparation to conduct research in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. This level of shared interest in conservation efforts in Tonga and American Samoa, and the additional support and mentoring from Dr. Tornabene, who is my doctoral advisor at the University of Washington, will be a perfect combination for a successfully completing my PhD, and establishing long-lasting collaborations that will benefit future research project in this region.

My long-term career goal and aspirations are to continue underwater research in tropical ecosystems, and to use my professional teaching experience to collaborate with local NGOs and government agencies to establish outreach education efforts in south Pacific island communities. I want to inspire students to become interested in SCUBA diving and to pursue careers in marine science that would benefit their local marine resources. A recent grant from NSF, the International Research Experiences for Students (IRES), awarded to my advisor, will allow me to mentor undergraduate students from the UW during three consecutive summers in American Samoa, Tonga, and Pohnpei. I also envision myself co-teaching a university level tropical marine biology course during my post-doctoral research. The work that I will be conducting at the community level, with long-term outreach activities in Vava’u and American Samoa, will ensure that the research I am doing leaves a positive long-lasting impression in the local communities, which are the main beneficiaries of my investigations.


Master-level Awards

1st place
Billie Beckley
San Diego State University
The mechanisms leading to recruitment inhibition of Macrocystis pyrifera by the understory alga, Desmarestia herbacea

I am a graduate student pursuing my Master’s degree in the Ecology program at San Diego State University.  My first scientific diving experience occurred while spending the semester at the School for Field Studies Center for Marine Resource Studies in Turks and Caicos, BWI in 2013.  Before beginning graduate school, I worked as a research technician at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in association with the University of Maryland, participating in both Bluefin tuna aquaculture and algae biofuel research. I spent a lot of time on dry land and missed studying processes in natural ecosystems, so I chose to focus my Master’s work on subtidal ecology. I obtained my AAUS certification in 2016, during my first year of graduate school. 

I work in the Kelp Forest Ecology Lab under Dr. Matthew Edwards. I am broadly interested in environmental and anthropogenic impacts to marine ecosystems. My thesis research focuses on how disturbance affects macroalgal community composition.  I am conducting experimental field-research in order to determine the mechanisms (e.g. shading, chemical alterations of the ambient seawater via allelopathy, and physical abrasion of the substrate via the “whiplash” effect) by which kelp species compete with one another in Macrocystis pyrifera dominated kelp forest ecosystems. Little is known about the mechanisms by which many of these algal species compete with one another, and knowledge about these competitive interactions can aid in the creation of conservation plans as climate change progresses.  Funding from AAUS will assist with purchasing materials to construct my experimental treatments and boat fuel.


2nd place
Danielle Becker 

California State University, Northridge
Investigating the effects of local stressors on the life cycle of a brooding coral, Pocillopora acuta, in Maunalua Bay, Hawai‘i'

I am a first-year master’s student in Dr. Nyssa Silbiger’s Lab within the Biology Department at California State University, Northridge. I received my AAUS Scientific Diving certification in 2016 and have participated in several projects that use scientific diving methods around the world. As an undergraduate at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg Florida, I explored many aspects of marine science including marine bioacoustics, coral reef restoration, marine mammal pathobiology, and coral reef ecology. After graduating, I received the Galbraith/Wardman Fellowship which allowed me to participate in coral reproduction research at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). I spent three summers at BIOS working on various projects involving coral reproductive ecology, microbial ecology, trans-generational acclimatization, and thermal tolerance responses in coral species. These experiences led me to develop a deep  appreciation for science-based research and encouraged me to pursue a master's degree studying coral reef ecosystems.

I am broadly interested in coral reef ecophysiology and how anthropogenic stressors may influence reef resilience. Recent research has shown that nutrient pollution can affect key processes that influence the net growth of coral reefs, like net calcification rates, sediment dissolution, and bioerosion rates. For my master’s thesis, I will investigate how elevated nutrient levels affect coral growth and physiology in Mo'orea, French Polynesia. This research can provide us with valuable information regarding the influence of local stressors on coastal environments. By understanding mechanisms affecting coral reef resilience, we can develop ways to promote healthy coral reef ecosystems and emphasize the importance of ecosystem function.

I appreciate the AAUS foundation’s continued commitment in supporting graduate student research. The AAUS Masters Scholarship will provide travel costs to my field site and support my research investigating the effects of local anthropogenic stressors on coral reef ecosystems.