Ken & Sonia Smith Memorial
Marine Conservation Scholarship

In 2012, the Florida Skin Divers Association’s (FSDA),  long-time member and FSDA treasurer Ken Smith was in failing health. The FSDA board wanted to honor Ken and his wife Sonia for their years of service to the FSDA. To create a legacy, in which to honor the dedication of Ken & Sonia Smith, the FSDA board voted to create the “Ken & Sonia Smith Marine Conservation Endowment Fund”. This fund was created to help a deserving student benefit their studies in the field of Marine Research, Education and Protection.

FSDA members for almost thirty years, Ken and Sonia facilitated the “Ocean Pals Poster Contest for Children”, which is an environmental education-through-art program as well as participating and assisting at FSDA tournaments and events. Ken & Sonia were both avid photographers both below and above the water, their home was filled with their many photographs of their travels and adventures (and the awards they won for many of those photographs). For many years, Ken was the FSDA treasurer and he and Sonia could be found at the FSDA events selling entry and raffle tickets. Ken & Sonia were also very active in their dive club the Reef Rowdies, putting together trips and club events for their members.  We lost Ken in 2014 and most recently lost Sonia on the eve of 2019. Ken and Sonia’s  spirit touched everyone around them and their contagious optimism and love for life, diving adventures, and the community will be greatly missed.

The FSDA is fortunate to be in the fishing capital of the world and home to a world-class center for marine science. Our members have a vested interest in the care, conservation and management of our marine resources. This scholarship will be provided to one college student (bachelor’s or higher) currently enrolled in a school program within the state of Florida studying marine science. The scholar will be chosen based on their academics and qualities that exemplify Sonia and Ken’s passions for diving, marine conservation, and youth education. The award will be provided at the FSDA Annual Banquet & Casino Night on February 16th. The recipient will receive 2 free entries and are highly encouraged to attend.

Application Instructions

Please submit per the guidelines below  
Submission window for the 2023 year is closed 

Applicants must submit the following materials:
- Letter explaining research/professional goals, and commitment to both marine conservation and education/outreach (max 1 page)
- Graduate transcript (unofficial is acceptable)
- Curriculum Vitae (max 1 page)

Application materials and questions can be directed to FSDA secretary:

Donate to the Scholarship

While FSDA contributes a set amount each calendar year towards the endowment fund, FSDA will graciously accept donations towards the fund so that more than one scholar can be awarded, when funds are available.

2021-2022 Scholarship Winner

Jamila Roth grew up in Massachusetts, but her passion for marine ecology began with regular family camping trips to Cayo Costa State Park on the gulf coast of Florida and conversations at home living with her Tausug ("people of the sea current") grandmother. As an undergraduate at Skidmore College, she first gained aquatic ecology research experience while spending two consecutive summers studying trapping methods for invasive species in the Finger Lakes. While there, she led activities for elementary students related to aquatic ecology and has worked to continue engaging with youth education projects from then onward. Jamila is now pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida, where she is investigating the impact of environmental change on seagrass resilience and seagrass-herbivore interactions, with the goal of producing results that can be used to develop novel approaches to incorporate resilience into seagrass restoration. She currently volunteers with the Gainesville Cultural Arts Coalition, leading hands-on activities at afterschool science clubs. 
She developed seagrass-focused curriculum and lesson plans that directly address Florida Learning Standards and Next Generation Science Standards for grades K-8. In 2019, she gave a survey before and after the activities and found that the students’ understanding of trophic interactions and ecosystem services improved after participating. The findings and activities are available online, and the findings from the study is published in Science Activities Journal. Additionally, she has worked to educate students about the importance of coastal ecosystems by creating a child-friendly interactive exhibit (displayed at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station) that highlights the importance of seagrass ecosystems and the current threats they face. Throughout her career, she plans to continue researching the impact of environmental change on coastal ecosystems and identifying how the findings can aid in the restoration, conservation, and management of these ecosystems.

Congratulations, Jamila!

Past Recipients

2018-2019: Elizabeth Duermit Moreau

2019-2020: Patrick Saldana

Elizabeth Duermitt-Moreau is originally from Ohio, but developed a passion for marine biology at a young age. She started her path as a marine science instructor at Seacamp in the Florida Keys, where she taught young students about marine life by leading snorkeling trips. She then spent time working as a fisheries observer in the Alaskan groundfish fishery before moving to South Carolina to get her Master’s from the College of Charleston. There, she worked closely with the commercial stone crab industry learning how to catch stone crabs and tagged over 1500 crabs in the field. She then implemented a citizen science tag-reporting program, involving the public in scientific research. Her research helped influence the management decision in SC to only permit one-claw removal. She then worked as a sea turtle biologist studying Kemp’s Ridley turtle strandings, conducted outreach presentations, and taught volunteers best practices for turtle conservation. Elizabeth is now pursuing her PhD at the University of Florida, studying stone crab disease, and how fishing pressure in Florida Bay affects pathogen transmission and disease susceptibility within the stone crab population. She continues her passion for education currently by mentoring undergraduates pursuing a career in marine biology.

Patrick Saldana shares many passions with FSDA – he grew up surfing, freediving, and spearfishing. He’s also an avid diver, with over 600 logged scientific dives. Like Ken and Sonia, he also loved sharing these passions with others and with youth. He worked as a surf instructor and kayak guide, teaching children about kelp forests and coastal critters off the coast of California. He has also led seminars to teach the public about marine science and designed and led many educational activities for youth groups. Patrick’s enthusiasm for teaching ocean science moved him to start creating documentaries and short videos about marine science and sustainable fisheries, and even led to him winning a national award for one of his films. Patrick’s commitment to marine conservation shines through his academic endeavors as well. He attended University of California Santa Barbara for his Bachelor’s degree, and received his master’s degree from San Diego State University. Patrick is now pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, where he has maintained a 4.0 GPA. His dissertation work is focused on the ecological role of sea urchins on degraded coral reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Even in between his busy dissertation work, he still makes time to lead presentations and outreach activities with Panamanian children, including making marine artwork out of marine debris and starting another film.

Remembering Ken & Sonia Smith

Ken, the FSDA treasurer for years, selling raffle tickets at an FSDA event.
At many FSDA events, Sonia could be found interacting with the kids at the Ocean Pals Booth.
Maria and Lori Smith (Sonia's daughters) and FSDA member Pat Fredette with Sonia, at the 2012 FSDA Banquet to honor Sonia & Ken with the start of the endowment fund.

Toastin' to the Ocean

The Women's Spearfishing Alliance, an FSDA club, partnered with Flying Boat Brewing Company to create a special brew called "Ocean Pal," in memory of their efforts. The Ocean Pals is a non-profit organization that promotes K-12 education about the ocean - the Florida portion of which was run single-handedly by the late Sonia Smith. portion of the sales from every beer sold (while supplies last) will be donated to the Ken and Sonia Smith Memorial Marine Conservation Scholarship. Thank you to Flying Boat Brewing Company for supporting our cause! And to all of those who came out to support the "Toastin' to the Ocean" event on January 28, 2020!