Updated on March 22, 2019
By Ben Mirin, Safina Center Fellow
One year ago the National Geographic Society sent a team of explorers to make a virtual reality film on Apo Reef, the second-largest contiguous coral reef in the world. Located forty kilometers off the coast of Mindoro island in the Philippines, Apo is at the epicenter of marine shore fish diversity. The Philippine archipelago is home to 2,824 marine fish species and 484 coral species, as well as five million fishers who depend on these fish and fishery products as sources of food and income.
Unfortunately, the economic importance of this marine ecosystem makes it susceptible to considerable pressure from overfishing and illegal fishing, with dynamite fishing still being used in certain areas. A recent study revealed that 59 species have been disappearing from Philippine waters since the 1950s, including coral reef giants like the Humphead Wrasse, the Bumphead Parrotfish and the Giant Grouper. Today, 97% of the Philippines’ large-bodied marine species, many of which are targeted by fishers, have experienced significant reductions in their distribution and population numbers.
In partnership with the Haribon Foundation and with the support of National Geographic, my team and I have produced a five-minute underwater virtual reality experience to bring the heart of the Filipinos back to the ocean. This month, we debuted the film in Sablayan, the city nearest the reef where parts of the film were shot with support from the local community. Using the power of immersive storytelling, the film reached over 1100 students and adults, giving us a chance to experience Apo Reef and meet some of its most charismatic threatened species.
This Saturday, March 23rd, we will present the film to Western audiences for the first time at the DC Environmental Film Festival, and share stories from our campaign to raise awareness for ocean conservation in The Philippines. To see photographs and first-hand accounts from the educational campaign, visit National Geographic’s new platform Open Explorer.
Watch the film trailer here: