New virtual reality film dives into Indonesia’s ‘species factory’


With 600 types of vibrant corals and 1,765 kinds of fish (including more than 40 species of sharks and rays), all concentrated in an area the size of Great Britain, Indonesia’s Bird’s Head peninsula is record-shattering and awe-inspiring … for those who get to experience it firsthand.

For the rest of us, this “species factory” can seem a world away from our daily lives — especially if you’re stuck in a windowless office. But there’s hope: Emerging technology is allowing more people to come closer than
ever to diving into the clear waters of the Bird’s Head.

As virtual reality (VR) breaks out of the gaming sphere and gains ground in fields ranging from healthcare to education,
VR producers are finding that their immersive films are encouraging more empathy from their audiences — a
discovery that reveals the films’ potential to create positive change in the world.

Later this month, Conservation International (CI) will be launching our first virtual reality film, “Valen’s Reef,
which will allow viewers anywhere in the world to feel like they’re scuba diving in a healthy reef that is part of one of the ocean’s biggest conservation success stories. The film was produced in partnership with with support
from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

Just 12 years ago, illegal and destructive fishing had brought this place to the brink of destruction. Since 2004, a close collaboration between CI, partner conservationists and local communities has established a network of 12 new marine protected areas.
The film is told from the perspective of CI Indonesia staffer Ronald Mambrasar, whose life’s work is protecting the coral reefs of the Bird’s Head for his son Valen’s generation — and beyond.

The film will debut publicly on June 20 at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity through a collaboration with YouTube; until then, enjoy this sneak peek panoramic 360 video. On a computer, use the arrows to change your vantage point; on
a tablet or smartphone, moving your device will do the trick.


Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

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Cover image: The waters of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head peninsula host an incredible array of life, including these sponges and soft corals. (© Conservation International /photo by Mark Erdmann)

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