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Disney Interviews Hawaiian Diver and National Geographic Explorer For AANHPI Heritage Month

In honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month as well as International Biodiversity Day, the Disney Parks Blog has shared a conversation with National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Live speaker Dr. Kakani Katija, who is a bioengineer and research diver!

Dr. Katija was actually an “ice dancer” before turning to marine biology and bioengineering; she was even on the U.S. International Figure Skating Team! Now, the Hawaiian bioengineer Kakani Katija has apparently “dedicated her life to developing underwater technologies to better observe biological and physical processes where they happen in the ocean”.

“Coming from the islands, you definitely have a strong connection with the ocean,” the National Geographic Explorer told Disney. “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.”

national geographic explorer

Dr. Kakani Katija Credit: Taylor Mickal

A burgeoning interest in aerospace engineering led to aquatic engineering once Dr. Katija “realized the endless possibilities and places [she] could do research and work in – including the ocean.” Now, the Principal Investigator and Engineer for the Bioinspiration Lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (known as MBARI) spends her time developing technology to help study some of the ocean’s most mysterious and lesser-known creatures that inhabit the ocean’s “twilight zone”.

Check out one of the “beautiful and engaging images” that the MBARI team has taken of these unique ocean inhabitants below!

MBARI national geographic explorer

Credit: MBARI

“We can understand the deep sea and the most unexplored places in our ocean or on the planet, thanks to technology,” Dr. Kakani Katija told the Disney Parks Blog. One particularly surprising discovery involved “palaces” made from mucus! “They’re one of the most complex structures made in nature, made completely out of materials that they secrete,” bioengineer Kakani Katija said, referring to the giant larvaceans who make the “snot palaces”.

These giant larvaceans are also helping when it comes to climate change; apparently, “they act as a carbon neutralizer for our planet”, meaning that these organisms could actually be crucial in dealing with climate change (even though they live between 100 and 400 meters underwater)!

“The sooner we understand our connection to other groups and animals, whether we like it or not, the better,” bioengineer Kakani Katija summarized. Dr. Katija and her team were recently in Cambodia working with their technology as well.Nation

When asked about diversity in her chosen field, Dr. Kakani Katija said that “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.”

Dr. Katija is one of the National Geographic Live speakers who is participating in the National Geographics Live tour. You can meet many National Geographic Explorers (including the legendary marine biologist Sylvia Earle!) if you’re a lover of Disney adventures who books some National Geographic Expeditions or Lindblad Expeditions!

About Sharon

Sharon is from New England. She's a writer, animal lover, and, of course, a Disney Fanatic! Sharon's two main focuses in her work are Disney's correlations with pop culture and the significance of Disney princesses (which was the basis for her college thesis). When she's not writing about Disney, Sharon spends her time singing, dancing, and cavorting with woodland creatures.