These are dark times for marine ecosystems. A recent survey of 6000 coral reefs in 46 countries found widespread devastation. While the damage is extensive, it is not universal—15 of the sampled areas were astonishingly healthy, boasting even more fish than scientists expected to find. One of those areas was the Bird’s Head Seascape in Indonesia. This pristine marine paradise is pretty far off the beaten track, but you can visit from home with the new virtual-reality movie Valen’s Reef.

Bird’s Head wasn’t always so vibrant. Ten years ago, the seascape’s 2500 islands and reefs were teetering on the edge of complete destruction. Reckless commercial fishing practices (including the use of explosives on coral reefs) had nearly wiped out local fish populations. This was bad news not only for the fish and their habitats, but for the local people who rely on subsistence fishing.

But the people of Bird’s Head were not about to let their home and wildlife go without a fight. Joining forces with the nonprofit Conservation International (CI), citizens fought hard against outside fishing interests by implementing strict environmental regulations and sustainable practices. Throughout the campaign, CI had film crews on site, capturing the struggle to restore the reefs in immersive, 360-degree detail.

The citizens’ effort paid off big time. CI reports that poaching is down 90 percent and that populations of whales, sharks, rays, and small fish are rebounding in spectacular fashion.

“Our oceans are under severe threat but we know one method—community-based conservation—can and does make a measurable difference,” CI senior scientist and executive vice president M. Sanjayan told VICE. “In Valen’s Reef, we use the immersive power of virtual reality to transport you to the most biologically diverse sea on our planet, and one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time, to inspire love and support for our oceans.”

The virtual-reality movie will be in theaters in Cannes and is available on smaller screens (and virtual reality devices) everywhere via YouTube.

Header image from YouTube // Conservation International

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