National Geographic Explorer Dr. Kakani Katija Shares How the Ocean is Our Greatest Classroom

Not only are we currently celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but tomorrow is International Biodiversity Day. Disney Parks Blog shared why this is celebrated because they want to increase understanding of our planet’s biodiversity issues.

What's Happening:

  • Tomorrow is International Biodiversity Day and Disney had the opportunity to speak with National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Live speaker Dr. Kakani Katija.
  • She is a bioengineer and research diver and discovers how the ocean is our greatest classroom and how being from Hawaii has affected her life in many ways.
  • Dr. Katija was with the U.S. International Figure Skating Team and has dedicated her life to developing ways to better observe biological and physical processes within the ocean.
  • She brings her work in her Designed by Nature speaker presentation, which takes audiences into her life within the deep waters of the ocean.

Interview with Dr. Kakani Katija:

  • “Coming from the islands, you definitely have a strong connection with the ocean.” But this connection Dr. Katija thought would never lead her to the career she has today. “When I moved from Hawaii to Oregon, my connection to the water was something that I maintained, but never something I thought would inspire me professionally.”

  • “I didn’t come from a background that understood all of the opportunities that science offered,” she recalled. In fact, Dr. Katija originally dreamed of becoming an astronaut and studied aerospace engineering because she thought it would allow her to find a job more easily. “It wasn’t until grad school that I realized the endless possibilities and places I could do research and work in – including the ocean.”
  • Even though she changed from air to water, one thing has remained constant “technology is at the core of what I do.” Dr. Katija studies little-known sea creatures that have the potential to make a big impact on some of our world’s most critical problems.
  • “Our group, the Bioinspiration Lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), focuses on developing technologies that give us a brand-new way of looking at animals and the ocean. Every time we deploy a new technology, we learn so many different things about one animal that other researchers have studied for decades.”

  • “The data we collect includes beautiful and engaging images that not only allow us to connect with others and bring people into the ocean with us, but also inspire people to learn about these systems and places. We can understand the deep sea and the most unexplored places in our ocean or on the planet, thanks to technology.”
  • You may wonder what the most fascinating concept she has ever studied was…it's snot palaces. She explains that giant larvaceans are animals that build snot palaces by secreting these mucus structures that they inhabit.

  • “They’re one of the most complex structures made in nature, made completely out of materials that they secrete. It’s fascinating how this one organism can create a beautiful and functional structure…all from snot!”
  • These giant larvae help mitigate and reverse climate destruction. They are found nearly 100 to 400 meters deep in our oceans.
  • So why is biodiversity important? “Understanding biodiversity helps us understand our place. Every animal, plant, and species present play an important role in our ecosystem, so we must understand how these systems work. If we don’t think about biodiversity – if we don’t value the array of life that we find on our planet – we don’t know what we’re losing. The sooner we understand our connection to other groups and animals, whether we like it or not, the better.”
  • How about diversity in her field in general? “The AANHPI community continues to remain a minority in ocean sciences, geosciences, and exploration. Representation is hugely important, and I’m heartened by seeing more interest and understanding of our island nations. The ocean is not just a place of employment for people, including me, but is a cultural and individual identity for these groups. I hope we still see more of that.”
  • To help bridge the gap, Dr. Katija says she hopes her legacy will provide people access and a window into the world that we all share. “Anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of ocean life has yet to be described or discovered. The MBARI Bioinspiration Lab focuses on illuminating this life and share them with broader audiences to appreciate the complexity and wonder that remains on our planet. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll help close that discovery gap.”