Go on a Virtual Tour of the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough

Take a deep dive into Australia’s most celebrated natural asset via this interactive website.

Heart Reef, located near the Whitsunday Islands, as seen from the air. (Photo: Alicia3690/Pixabay)

We may be months away from being able to visit the Great Barrier Reef once more, but for those of us now sitting at home, there’s a way to virtually explore its wonders while listening to the soothing voice of the inimitable English broadcaster David Attenborough.

Originally launched to coincide with the 2015 release of the BBC One documentary Great Barrier Reef, attenboroughsreef.com is an interactive website that lets virtual travelers dive beneath the waves and experience a complex marine ecosystem through photos, videos, moving maps, and other graphics. You can spend hours marveling at the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, as Attenborough says in the introductory video, to “discover its uncertain future and learn the crucial steps that can be taken to help save it.”

The interactive journey takes in five key locations, tracking north to south from Osprey Reef to Lady Elliot Island. A sidebar on the main map view opens up a video tour of OceanX’s The Alucia, the research vessel Attenborough was based on for the duration of filming, and watch footage taken in a Triton submersible that can dive to depths of up to 1,000 meters.

A screenshot of the main map view at attenboroughsreef.com

Scrolling down through one chapter, you’ll hone in on details even seasoned divers will not typically observe. A timelapse shows how staghorn coral grows by the millimeter over 15 days, while a simulation allows you to see like a mantis shrimp, which can detect more wavelengths of light than any other creature in the animal kingdom. Then, listen to the sounds of a healthy reef and follow the annual journeys of dwarf minke whales swimming up from sub-Antarctic waters, green turtles returning in droves to lay their eggs, and wedge-tailed shearwater birds as they migrate from their breeding grounds on the reef to distant Micronesia for the winter.

The threats facing Australia’s greatest natural asset are also brought into full focus. You’ll witness how marine biologists are dealing with outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish, whose numbers have exploded due to a lack of natural predators caused by overfishing, and see the effects of ocean acidification on calcium-based organisms like coral. There’s an easy-to-follow explanation of the science behind coral bleaching in a section that highlights the death of a reef through 360-degree-camera views capturing its appearance before, during, and after a 2014 mass bleaching event. Users are eventually confronted by sobering statistics, with a real-time tracker showing just how much of the reef has been lost since the site was launched five years ago (answer: more than 13,100 square kilometers).

Accelerating climate change means the general outlook may be grim, especially now that the Great Barrier Reef has suffered its third mass coral bleaching event in the past five years, but Attenborough reminds us there is still hope for its survival if we all act now to reduce our CO2 emissions and raise awareness of the importance of coral reef conservation worldwide.

Click here to launch the website.

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