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Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza: Executive Director of Ocean First Institute

As a bona fide shark expert, Dr. McComb-Kobza spends her days diving with sharks and teaching kids about the wonders of the ocean. The Ocean First Institute has various programs for kids to learn about marine life, conservation, and explore science career paths. It may come as a surprise that Dr. McComb-Kobza’s interest in sharks came from the movie Jaws. She was so scared of sharks from the film that she decided to research them, and ended up falling in love with the species in the process.

What are some of the ways that Ocean First Institute inspires youth to be advocates for the ocean?

Ocean First Institute combines my passions for research and outreach. I want to inspire young people to see pathways for themselves that are not readily apparent. We have education programs that are led by scientists and have a discovery center. There are 30 different programs about marine animals to teach kids about what’s going on in the ocean. We also do expeditions where I take students to do research in the field. They scuba dive, tag sharks to track their movements, and measure sharks with lasers. It’s a lot of hands-on, real-life experiences for kids, which is really impactful. Back in Colorado, we do conservation research about our local rivers and the endangered species that live in them. We recently partnered with a research station in the Florida Keys, so we will now be able to do research there monthly on sharks which is really exciting for me and the kids.

Can you tell me about some of the research Ocean First Institute is working on?

One of our latest projects is on Great White sharks in the northeast Atlantic. I deploy underwater cameras with bait to attract sharks. We look at the recordings to see how big the shark is, their gender, and their markings to see where they are at what time of year and where they go next. We’ve learned that sharks go as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico in the same season. It’s mind blowing. Our research solves the puzzle of the life history of these animals, and it takes an army to get those answers. This year, we’ve grown a lot and reached more students than ever. It’s my hope that we can continue to bring on more funded researchers to help us answer these questions and inspire students through education.

What are actions we can take as individuals to help protect ocean wildlife?

When you think about what’s happening to our oceans it can be overwhelming, but there’s so many things we can do we can do to help. First is your food. Think about the food you eat and the choices you make on what you buy. Meat is a very environmentally expensive commodity, so try to limit that as much as possible. Plastic pollution is also something to consider. Can you reduce your plastic consumption? If you do use it, do you have a way to dispose of it properly?

What is your favorite part of your job?

Diving with sharks and spending time with them underwater. It’s an honor to share space with sharks, and having the chance to lock eyes with them is a look back in time. I’ve done research on Hammerheads and have had my hands on 15 ft. Great Whites— it’s amazing to touch and interact with these animals. I also love getting people excited about sharks and sharing this knowledge with kids. They need to know that there’s a lot you can do in this life to make the world a better place.


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