Illustration av person med VR-glasögon
Photo: Illustration: Danny Pimentel

Collects virtual experiences of the ocean


How can digital technology contribute to a greater commitment to the marine environment? This is something Géraldine Fauville, marine biologist and researcher in education at the University of Gothenburg, studies. In a new international community, she maps virtual experiences that has the Ocean as a common theme.

Personal experiences and close contact with nature are often decisive for people's environmental commitment. This also applies to the ocean. A glance below the surface can open up completely new perspectives on the more than 70 percent of the earth's surface that is covered by water. But the ocean is by its nature difficult to access.

Porträtt på Géraldine Fauville
Géraldine Fauville
Photo: Johan Wingborg

“Few people have access to the marine environment. And even if you live close to the coast, there are a lot of obstacles before you can experience all that the ocean has to offer. With the help of technology, you can imitate that experience,” says Géraldine Fauville.

What Géraldine Fauville is referring to is a diverse collection of tools for so-called virtual or augmented reality that are gathered under the term Extended Reality (XR), anything from simulations of powerful diving adventures in a standard swimming pool, to a mobile app where you can help clean a virtual penguin after an oil spill. Even items created purely for entertainment purposes can have great potential in marine pedagogy—in school as well as for the public.

Evaluation of experiences

According to Géraldine Fauville, there are plenty of promising tools on the market, but the variety is also a bit of a maze. Therefore, together with two colleagues from Oregon University and the organization The Hydrous, she has started IREEF (Immersive Reality for Environmental Education Facilitation), a community that explores what’s available within ocean related XR technology.

“So far, we have identified over a hundred different ocean XR activities. But mapping is only the first step. Then there’s the scientific part. We want to find out exactly how the various technologies affect the user's relationship to the ocean. Do they contribute to increased knowledge, changed attitudes, purely emotional reactions, or something else?”

Photo: Illustration: Danny Pimentel

Géraldine Fauville has previously conducted a study with immersive underwater VR, where a number of researchers from the University of Gothenburg were submerged in a swimming pool with VR glasses and then evaluated their experiences. The plan is to follow up the experiment on a larger scale with students from the University as subjects. At the same time, her colleagues in the IREEF community are studying the effects of more accessible XR applications, which can be used in regular mobile phones. Together, they have also edited a special issue on marine pedagogy and digital technology for the journal Environmental Education Research.

Available to many

Géraldine Fauville hopes that the collaboration will result in valuable knowledge for a wide range of educators, researchers, and organizations working to increase ocean literacy around the world.

“This type of technology can be used in many different contexts. While underwater VR requires expensive equipment and access to a swimming pool, other experiences are literally in everyone's hand via a mobile phone. But it varies a lot how you’re affected by the different experiences, and we want to find out how,” says Géraldine Fauville.

Text: Per Adolfsson


Immersive Reality for Environmental Education Facilitation (IREEF ) is an initiative started in collaboration between the University of Gothenburg, the University of Oregon, and the organization The Hydrous. IREEF is partially funded by the Unity Charitable Fund, run by the Tides Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a world of shared prosperity and social justice.