A deep dive with David Attenborough

With David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive, Adelaideans will be able to take a virtual reality (VR) 360-degree underwater tour of one of the seven natural wonders of the world with the great Sir David Attenborough as their personal guide.

The digital experience, which will be at the South Australian Museum from Friday, March 1 until Sunday, July 14, is the easiest and most comfortable way to explore the world’s largest coral reef. It comes with a phenomenal guide, as Attenborough first scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) some 60 years ago and is a champion and advocate of the reef having made many documentaries about Australia’s natural wonder.

The Museum’s Senior Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates, Dr Andrea Crowther, who has experienced the 20-minute VR dive, will curate a display of scleractinian coral specimens to accompany the VR experience of exploring the reef in a Triton submersible.

“The VR reef dive allows you to go underwater without all the heavy scuba gear, you don’t end up with a mask imprint on your face; in fact, you don’t even have to actually get wet,” she says. “Throughout the VR reef dive, you get to sit in a chair and watch the reef life swim around you – it’s quite relaxing.

“The display we are putting together is to show people just some of the diversity of the reef-building corals that help form the structure of the GBR,” Crowther says. “There are around 450 species of these corals on the GBR, and they are very important creatures. Some people don’t realise that corals are animals, but there are billions of tiny coral polyps that build these limestone skeletons of a coral. In turn, these skeletons provide structure and homes for other animals.

David Attenborough preparing for a dive (Photo: Atlantic Productions)
David Attenborough preparing for a dive (Photo: Atlantic Productions)

“And now, there is the GBR, which is one of the most complex ecosystems on our planet, all due to these tiny polyps. Our display is to show you examples, a bit about the diversity, and a bit about the coral biology. We will also be supplementing this display by providing extra information via our social media pages (particularly our Instagram: @southaustralianmuseum), and the Discovery Centre on Level 1 of the Museum will also have a small display, including some corals under a microscope, so you can see microscopic details.”

Originally from Queensland, Crowther says she has been fascinated by the GBR since her first scuba dive.

“The GBR is such a huge ecosystem, and it is just teeming with all kinds of life, including animals and plants. Quite often, before a dive, you’ll be on a boat in the middle of the ocean, you might not have seen land for days, just the occasional seabird. It can be a bit unnerving. But once you dive into the water, all of a sudden, a new world appears, and you are suddenly surrounded by life. The contrast from being on top of the waves to under them, is amazing, and I get that sense of excitement every time.

“With regards to the VR experience, I was fascinated by the technology that is available for research these days. I would love to have an opportunity to take a submarine tour of the GBR, maybe go a bit deeper than I can scuba dive to see the life down there.”

David Attenborough being filmed in the Triton Submersible (Photo: Atlantic Productions)
David Attenborough being filmed in the Triton Submersible (Photo: Atlantic Productions)

Crowther says David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive is about the experience rather than an environmental message about the state of the reef.

“The VR reef dive is about the experience – you get to sit in a submersible, next to Sir David Attenborough. It’s not every day that opportunity comes along. You are exploring the GBR along with Sir David Attenborough, and you see and hear him exploring the reef with you. But, of course, there is plenty to think about after the VR experience is over.

“Australians should have a lot of pride for the GBR; it is a natural wonder of the world, there is a GBR World Heritage Area, it is approximately 2300 km long, consists of 3000 individual reefs and 600 islands, home to hundreds of thousands of species, and can be seen from space. It is the largest contiguous coral reef ecosystem in the world, and possibly the largest geomorphological structure ever created by living organisms. It is thought the reef (in its current form) probably began growing 6000 to 7000 years ago.”

David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive
South Australian Museum
Friday, March 1 to Sunday, July 14

The Adelaide Review is a media partner of the South Australian Museum

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