The Natural History Museum’s latest virtual reality adventure, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive, extracts visitors from drizzly South Kensington to even wetter whereabouts this December.
Streaming from dozens of VR goggles in unison, the 20-minute documentary is watched in the cinema space of the Attenborough Studios. It is a strangely solitary experience – the film plays only within the eyes and ears of your own headset, turning the surrounding auditorium into undulations of coral and the person beside you into a potato cod or a barracuda. Make sure you have enough space to crane your neck 360-degrees to take in the full reel of footage.
As a collaboration between the museum and Atlantic Productions – the team behind the award-winning documentary Natural History Museum Live – David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive is shot aboard a deep sea submersible. ‘With Sir Attenborough in the Triton submarine, you get to travel down and look at some of the amazing beauty of the Great Barrier Reef,’ says Sir Michael Dixon, director of the NHM. It is the second virtual reality film to come to the museum, ‘and possibly the longest,’ he says. ‘We have seen David Attenborough in black and white, colour, 3D, 4K and now virtual reality, we are very excited by the potential of this technology.’
The documentary comes at a poignant moment for coral reefs the world over. As scientists declare a second global bleaching event in a row, ‘communicating the importance of reefs has become crucial,’ says Dr Ken Johnson, coral reef researcher at the NHM. ‘Our challenge is to show how they are the most ecologically productive organisms in the world,’ he says. ‘Though they take up less than one tenth of one per cent of the ocean floor, they are home to over 25 per cent of the world’s fish biodiversity.’
To showcase the museum’s extensive collection of corals researched daily by scientists, a giant Tubinaria coral specimen will be on display alongside the exhibition.