Exploring the coral reefs of Singapore's Sisters' Islands Marine Park while remaining completely dry is now a possibility, thanks to virtual reality.
Local start-up Hiverlab, a virtual reality content production company, has come up with a new training tool called Eyes on Habitat: Coral Reefs, which aims to aid in the training of marine biologists and reef monitoring volunteers.
Hiverlab worked with environmental consultancy DHI Water and Environment, as well as the Info-comm Media Development Authority's PIXEL Labs, to develop the programme, which was unveiled on Wednesday.
Still at a prototype stage, the programme allows users to explore a Singapore reef through virtual reality. During the 'dive', participants will be guided to identify various marine organisms along the Sisters' Islands reef and respond to quizzes to test their knowledge.
It will out rolled out to United World College next month as an enrichment programme, said Hiverlab founder Ender Jiang.
The programme will help students learn methods in the assessment and monitoring of coral reefs, orientate themselves on monitoring protocols and practice their identification skills in a virtual setting, before they embark on actual dives.
There are scientific methods involved in reef monitoring. A commonly used method is called visual quadrat sampling, which first involves the laying of a transact line. The researcher or volunteer then places a square, usually made of plastic pipes, at along the line and identifies the biodiversity, or coral cover, within the square.
"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," said Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub, a senior marine ecologist with DHI research centre.