Dive into marine world - and stay dry

Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs allows users to explore the reefs at Sisters' Islands through virtual reality. The software was launched yesterday at the National Design Centre in Bugis.
Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs allows users to explore the reefs at Sisters' Islands through virtual reality. The software was launched yesterday at the National Design Centre in Bugis.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Reef lovers will be able to explore the corals of Sisters' Islands Marine Park while staying completely dry, thanks to virtual reality (VR).

A new training tool, Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs - which aims to aid in the training of marine biologists and reef-monitoring volunteers - has been created by local start-up Hiverlab, a VR content production company.

Hiverlab worked with environmental consultancy DHI Water and Environment, as well as the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Pixel Labs, to develop the programme, which was unveiled yesterday at the National Design Centre in Bugis.

Still at a prototype stage, it allows users to explore the reefs at Sisters' Islands through VR. During the "dive", participants will be guided in identifying marine organisms along the reef, and respond to quizzes to test their knowledge.

The programme will help students learn scientific methods in the assessment and monitoring of reefs, orientate themselves on monitoring protocols and practise their identification skills in a virtual setting before they go on real dives.

A commonly used method is visual quadrat sampling, which first involves the laying of a line. The researcher or volunteer then places a square, usually made of plastic pipes, at intervals along the line and identifies the biodiversity, or coral cover, within the square.

Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub, a senior marine ecologist at DHI research centre, said: "Some marine biology students may be hesitant the first time they go underwater to conduct scientific surveys of the reef, so with this programme, we can guide the students step-by-step."

Those interested can try out the prototype next month at Pixel Labs, the National Design Centre and at the Jurong Regional Library.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Dive into marine world - and stay dry'. Print Edition | Subscribe