World

One woman's mission to bring people closer to the ocean using virtual reality

By Megan Alldridge, CNN

Published 7:30 PM ET, Thu February 18, 2021
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Marine biologist Erika Woolsey wanted to find a way to allow people to see for themselves the damage being done to the oceans. Pete Niesen
Through her non-profit, The Hydrous, Woolsey is using virtual reality to "bring the ocean to everyone." She hopes to raise awareness of reef damage and inspire action to protect our seas. The Hydrous
As a habitat, coral reefs rival the biodiversity of rainforests, with an estimated 25% of marine species depending on them. However, climate change, pollution and overfishing have decimated around half the world's shallow-coral reefs. Erika Woolsey/The Hydrous
Woolsey, who has been diving for over two decades, witnessed first-hand these changes and set out to recreate this experience with her team in their award-winning film, "Immerse." Rick Miskiv
Over the course of the film, participants are taken on a dive with Woolsey on the coral reefs off the western Pacific Island of Palau. They swim with manta rays, sea turtles and sharks as well as witnessing the state of the reefs. Pete Niesen
To capture the footage a VRTUL2 camera was used, made up of 13 Black Magic cameras, 12 of which are mounted in pairs eye-width apart. The team timed their expedition based on the moon phases and marine life behavior, with spectacular results. Pete Niesen
Since June 2020, almost 1 million people, aged eight to 90 have taken part in virtual dives. Woolsey said that the dives offer people a much-needed connection to each other amid global lockdowns. Pete Niesen
Woolsey and her team hope that the experience creates a sense of "universal ocean empathy" and have plans to expand to underexplored seas once advances in technology allow. The Hydrous