CLOSE

Explore a Pristine Marine World in the Virtual-Reality Film Valen’s Reef

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

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tre' Packard
arrow
Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
Tre' Packard
Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia
iStock
iStock

There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios