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Navigating New Realities: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in Nature Conservation

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

In an era defined by technological marvels, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are showing the potential to take the world by storm, and their potential to transform nature conservation is no exception. These immersive technologies are revolutionizing the way we connect with and understand nature, allowing individuals to venture into remote and inaccessible environments, fostering a profound connection with the natural world.

To keep the world in a 1.5 degree safe-zone, we must take innovative approaches to tackle the barriers holding people back from understanding their role in climate change. - Ligia Noronha, Director of the economy division at UNEP

Case studies

Environmental Education and Outreach

One of the applications of VR in conservation lies in environmental education and outreach. Imagine being transported to the heart of a fragile ecosystem, such as a vibrant coral reef or the heart of a lush rainforest. VR experiences enable individuals to witness the beauty and comprehend the significance of conservation firsthand. Through interactive and educational content, people can learn about biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the impact of human activities. This fosters a sense of environmental stewardship, inspiring collective action for a sustainable future.

The UN's "Sea of Island"

A Virtual Reality Experience on Climate Change in the Asia Pacific

The United Nations' Sea of Islands project immerses viewers in the Pacific's climate change narrative through cinematic 360° VR. Capturing the unique stories of Pacific communities grappling with climate change, the project sheds light on the security challenges faced by Small Island Developing States. Rising sea levels, irregular weather patterns, and natural disasters threaten Pacific livelihoods, calling for innovative adaptation measures. The VR film, shot in Fiji, provides a poignant exploration of the impacts on food security, displacement, and community resilience. Funded by the Government of Japan, the project, produced by the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and PHORIA, underscores the urgent need for global climate action, emphasizing the Pacific's crucial role in shaping a sustainable future.

UNEP's "A Journey into Your Carbon Footprint"

Illustrating the Environmental Impact of Daily Choices

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with Sony PlayStation, introduces a chilling VR experience addressing climate change and individual carbon footprints. Accessible on YouTube for those without VR goggles, the immersive experience utilizes three-dimensional graphics and ambisonic audio to guide users through daily scenes, illustrating the environmental repercussions of lifestyle choices. The journey transforms breakfast scenes into depictions of sea level rise, portraying the carbon footprint as an 18-meter-high orange ball of gas. With a focus on education and social change, UNEP's virtual reality initiative seeks to reshape perspectives on daily choices and foster a deeper understanding of individual contributions to climate change.

Conservation International's "Drop in the Ocean"

Plunge into the mesmerizing depths of marine life

Conservation International's Drop in the Ocean VR experience is a captivating journey that plunges users into the mesmerizing depths of marine life. As users don VR headsets, they are transported beneath the ocean's surface, where they can explore vibrant coral reefs, encounter diverse marine species, and witness the intricate interconnectedness of underwater ecosystems. This immersive experience serves as a powerful educational tool, raising awareness about the critical importance of marine conservation and the profound impact of human activities on the delicate balance of the oceans. Through stunning visuals and interactive storytelling, "Drop in the Ocean" aims to inspire a sense of responsibility and environmental stewardship, encouraging viewers to take action in protecting our oceans for future generations.

Virtual Field Surveys: Exploring the Unreachable

The advent of VR technology has revolutionized conservation by facilitating remote exploration of any environment, sometimes even inaccessible ones. Platforms like Google Earth VR empower researchers to virtually dive into the depths of the sea, traverse dense rainforests, or glide through vibrant coral reefs. This non-invasive approach has become invaluable for monitoring biodiversity, assessing habitats, and tracking changes over time. It supports the development of conservation strategies and informs global initiatives.

Virtual Field Geology

Geological Exploration through VR

Source: Virtual Field Geology

Virtual Field Geology refashions geological exploration by crafting a geology-based virtual field. Noteworthy among their offerings is the Whaleback Anticline virtual field experience, set in central Pennsylvania. This geological masterpiece allows users to explore fold geometry, kinematics, and mechanics within a game-like interface. Utilizing a geodetic compass, users can make real-time measurements, instantly plotted within a stereonet. The platform extends beyond mere exploration, offering educational initiatives, including the Structural Geology Query Toolkit for creating personalized virtual field trips.

Simulating Climate Change Impacts

VR serves as a powerful tool to simulate the effects of climate change, vividly portraying potential consequences on ecosystems. By creating virtual scenarios, researchers can visualize and communicate the impacts of rising temperatures, sea-level rise, and habitat loss. This immersive experience bridges the gap of understanding, enabling policymakers, stakeholders, and the public to grasp the urgency of climate action and the imperative for conservation strategies to mitigate and adapt to these changes.

Stanford's Ocean Acidification VR

A Dive into Future Seas

The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience, a pioneering VR simulation developed by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, immerses users in the devastating effects of ocean acidification caused by human-induced carbon-dioxide emissions. Accessible to anyone with a smartphone or VR headset, this free science education tool takes users on a journey to the sea to visit a replica of a rocky reef around Italy's Ischia island. Descending to the ocean floor, users witness coral reefs losing vitality and marine life succumbing to increasingly acidic waters. With a focus on interactive learning, narration, and engaging activities, the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience has the potential to impact real-world behavior.

Future Earth

A VR Gamification for Environmental Action

Source: SideQuest VR

Future Earth, a student project, is a VR adventure game set in a dystopian future, where the player has to grow trees, fight droids and collect parts. Through this gamified experience, players actively engage in actions vital for climate preservation. The core design involves players collecting spare parts from defeated bots to construct water filter technology, enabling tree growth amid adverse Earth conditions. This student project showcases VR's potential not only for education but also for active engagement, illustrating its capacity to provoke thoughtful reflection and inspire positive action in addressing climate change.


The fusion of VR and AR with nature conservation endeavors presents an unprecedented avenue for transformative engagement with our environment. As technological wonders unfold, VR and AR stand out as pivotal tools shaping our understanding of and connection with nature. This blog explored a few remarkable case studies, where applications extend beyond mere education, actively inspiring stewardship and inciting action. Collectively, these examples illustrate the monumental potential of VR and AR in reshaping perspectives, fostering environmental consciousness, and instigating collective efforts toward a sustainable future. Stay tuned as we continue to delve into the wondrous intersection of nature conservation and technology!


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