How ‘dry diving’ the Great Barrier Reef could help save the World Heritage site

This article appeared on abc news:

How ‘dry diving’ the Great Barrier Reef could help save the World Heritage site – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Posted November 2nd

Virtual reality is helping researchers and the public “dry dive” the Great Barrier Reef to explore and collect data on the natural wonder.  The QUT project — Monitoring Through Many Eyes — was developed to help measure the aesthetic value of the reef.  Marine scientists and the general public have been given the chance to explore the reef without getting their toes wet through the use of VR headsets.

Virtual Reality allowed researchers to monitor the reef without getting wet.  (612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchcliffe)

Virtual Reality allowed researchers to monitor the reef without getting wet. (612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchcliffe)

“The Great Barrier Reef was designated a World Heritage area under a number of criteria based around the geological phenomena, ecological processes and diversity,” project lead Dr Erin Peterson said.  “It’s not widely known but Australia is also required to report to UNESCO regarding the reef aesthetics.  “Natural beauty, it’s very subjective, so what we want to do is use the VR technology to immerse people in the reef.  “This helps us … [monitor] how people feel, and if we can quantify that then we can manage and preserve it.”

Developing technology

The team used images from the XL Catlin Seaview Survey to create the digital reef.  Dr Peterson said the reaction from first-time users had been mostly positive.  “Some people have just been giddy when they start looking around the digital reef … you can’t pull them away.  “Other people are more critical and talk about not being able to zoom or the like, but also the technology is developing.”  QUT researcher Dr Julie Vercelloni interviewed more than 100 people who did a dry dive.

Dr Julie Vercelloni takes notes while a participant views the reef from dry land (photo: QUT)

Dr Julie Vercelloni takes notes while a participant views the reef from dry land (photo: QUT)

 

“It’s an important study as the perception of the beauty is different from the health [of the reef] and it’s hard to get knowledge as it’s subjective, not objective,” Dr Vercelloni said.  “Scuba divers have loved the technology and they enjoyed having a different point of view of what they normally see.”

Diving on the reef from your bedroom?

The project will soon become a part of a larger online initiative.  “If the user has a VR headset there will be a QR code that would allow them to access the digital reef from home,” Dr Peterson said.  “We know that there are heaps of people who are interested in the reef but they’re not able to go and dive there.  “This is one way to get people more engaged.”

The project group hoped in time divers would also be able to contribute their own data and photos to add to the digital reef.  “We’re at a turning point and people want to help collect information on the reef and we need a way to bring all the groups together,” Dr Peterson said.  “If we can bring this army of citizen scientists into the mix then the sky is the limit.”

This story and a Video link can be accessed at:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-02/how-dry-diving-the-great-barrier-reef-could-help-save-it/7987206?pfmredir=sm

 

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