Sep 10, 2018

Looking to the Future with Virtual Reality

Photo by Tobin Asher and Elise Ogle, VHIL
Photo by Tobin Asher and Elise Ogle, VHIL

In 2016, CORAL began an exciting new partnership with the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) at Stanford University. Three key players met to kickstart this collaboration: Dr. Michael Webster, CORAL’s Executive Director, Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, VHIL’s Director, and Dr. Robert Richmond, Director of the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory. Although they didn’t know it at the time, their meeting would lead to one of the most popular virtual reality films presented at Tribeca.

Their discussion centered around one key question: How can virtual reality be used to advance coral reef conservation in the face of climate change? The answer became clear when Dr. Richmond, who is also a CORAL Board member, suggested that VHIL staff attend a Palauan congressional meeting to show leaders how their coral reefs looked in virtual reality. This meeting would provide decision-makers and leaders with an immersive opportunity to learn more about coral reefs, their importance, and the threats they face. And then, hopefully, to positively influence the trajectory of future laws and regulations affecting coral reefs and coral reef conservation.

With CORAL’s help, two VHIL staff members – Tobin Asher and Elise Ogle – traveled to Palau to film underwater virtual reality footage. Asher and Ogle’s visit coincided not only with the congressional meeting but also with a Stanford University Overseas Seminar, taught by Dr. Robert Dunbar and Dr. Stephen Monismith of Stanford University and Dr. Richmond. Asher and Ogle were able to join Stanford students and staff from the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) on daily field expeditions and filmed a diverse selection of both healthy and degraded reefs.

The congressional meeting took place on July 7, 2017, at PICRC; Palauan delegates and senators attended the event, PICRC staff moderated the event and Dr. Richmond and Dr. Dunbar gave presentations on coral reef conservation and management. The goal of the meeting was to connect decision-makers and scientists and to facilitate understanding of how climate change and local stressors are affecting coral reefs in Palau and the people who depend on them.

After the presentations, Asher and Ogle ran personalized demonstrations of virtual underwater footage from Palauan reefs. Many congressional members had never experienced VR technology before, and for some senators, it was their first time seeing an underwater landscape of coral reefs.

An especially impactful underwater scene showed a popular snorkeling site, with tourists inadvertently kicking corals on the reef. Experiencing coral reefs in virtual reality and seeing the threats they face helped attendees understand the importance of protecting coral reefs, especially the popular tourist sites. Soon after the experience, Palauan senators introduced initiatives that would reduce the number of people at popular tourist sites and also made commitments to further research to protect coral reefs.

The collaboration between the VHIL and CORAL didn’t end after the landmark congressional meeting. Asher and Ogle attended the 2017 CORAL Prize event last September and led individual immersive experiences for attendees. CORAL staff experienced bustling Palauan coral reefs and saw the power of virtual reality for conservation.

VHIL staff also used the virtual reality footage from Palau to create Coral Compass: Fighting Climate Change in Palau, an underwater VR film that was showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018. The film was a breakout star at the festival, garnering praise like “the best… virtual reality experience on offer at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival” from Observer Magazine. The film’s upbeat message helped connect viewers to coral reefs, and its interactive nature contributed to its success. As underwater filmmaker Ogle points out, “When you put the headset on and you feel immersed, that’s really what drives this experience as far as creating attitude and behavior changes for coral reefs.”

The VHIL team is now working to bring Coral Compass to popular Virtual Reality platforms, like SteamVR, Oculus and VIVEPORT. The film is available on Oculus here.

Asher believes the message of hope was critical to the film’s impactful debut. “One of the things that was important to us was that it wasn’t a doom and gloom story. We wanted to emphasize that there are things people can do to combat what’s happening, and if we take action we can see positive results for coral reefs.”

CORAL Prize attendee experiences a reef in VR
CORAL Prize attendee experiences a reef in VR
Aug 7, 2018

CORAL's 2018 Conservation Prize Winner!

Since 2014, the CORAL Conservation Prize has been awarded annually to an individual who has proven to be an outstanding leader in the conservation of coral reefs. The CORAL Prize is a unique opportunity to recognize the people that are truly making a difference in the future of coral reefs, and applicants are nominated by a member of their community for their achievements and dedication. This year, we are honored to present Komeno Roberto (Roberto) as our 2018 CORAL Conservation Prize winner.

Roberto grew up in Atsimo Andrefana, (Southwest) Madagascar, an area struck by immense poverty but surrounded by some of the most beautiful and diverse coral reefs. Roberto’s dedication to coral reefs and his community has been proven time and time again through his work as Head Scientific Advisor at Reef Doctor, a UK-based non-profit conservation and social development organization, and over his 18 years at the Institute of Fisheries and Marine Sciences in Toliara Madagascar. Roberto leads Reef Doctor’s diverse conservation and development projects including; aquaculture, reef restoration, marine reserve management, and research. He is one of only of 4% of the population of Atsimo Andrefana to obtain a university education; he holds a Masters in Applied Oceanography from the University of Toliara and a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Antananarivo.

Roberto has worked on a wide range of conservation efforts including monitoring coral bleaching, managing and developing marine protected areas and protecting and monitoring seagrass. His research yields important science-based information for all partners and has pioneering new techniques and pushed the boundaries of development and coral research in Madagascar.

Roberto is both an integral member of the reef conservation community and an outstanding leader in his community. Atsimo Andrefana is a rural area where over 70% of the population has received less than 4 years of education and 88% of the population is identified as living in either severe or acute poverty, according to an Alkire and Santos Multidimensional Poverty Index assessment. Through his work at Reef Doctor, Roberto has worked closely with the local fishing communities to provide the skills and tools to the local community to protect and manage their marine and terrestrial ecosystems and support the livelihood of around 200,000 rural fishers threatened by declining fishery yields and degraded marine habitats. This, in turn, improves the well being of the impoverished rural communities as well as the natural environment and resources they depend upon, which are largely threatened by degradation and over-exploitation.

Roberto’s commitment to leadership in both coral reef conservation and within his community has helped save coral reefs in Madagascar and serves as an inspiration to all who love and depend on coral reefs.

Jun 12, 2018

Safeguarding Fiji's Reefs- Episode 3 of 3

The following is the final installation of a three part series about a small island in Fiji. Check out the associated video series here

“Uniting Communities to Save Coral Reefs.” That’s the mission of the Coral Reef Alliance, and we’re working with local communities in Oneata to identify and implement solutions for their future.

Coral reefs and fish populations are intricately linked, and the decline of coral reef health in Fiji has jeopardized food security in Oneata, where a remote location means that local communities depend on fishing for both their food and income.

CORAL is teaming up with local leaders in Oneata to create win-win plans that benefit both the community and conservation. This type of management structure enables families to maintain their livelihoods and, at the same time, builds sustainable resource systems that will last for generations.

Implementing stronger regulations against overfishing, teaching community members about sustainable alternatives and protecting coral reefs in and around the local fishing grounds will ensure that the people of Oneata safeguard their own future as well as the future of nearby ecosystems.

CORAL has a long history of working with communities in Fiji to protect coral reefs and the people who rely on them. We know that people and reefs depend on each other, and we’re working in Fiji and a number of other places across the globe to unite communities to save coral reefs.

But we can’t do it alone; we need your help. Right now, we have the local support necessary to develop durable solutions that can exist well into the future. But we do not yet have the financial resources to turn these solutions into reality for the Oneata community. Today, we ask you to consider making a donation. Please visit www.coral.org/safeguardingfijisreefs to donate and learn more about how you can support communities like Oneata and save coral reefs.

Soko Ledua:
“Mainly we just want the youth to be educated, so they can look for long-term business. Mainly for supporting their children. If we keep on harvesting, we don’t get the fish for our children.”

Learn more at www.coral.org/safeguardingfijisreefs

 
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