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The Virtual Reef

The Virtual Reef is the world's first attempt to capture high-resolution, underwater virtual reality (VR)  sections of actual coral reefs and other underwater ecosystems.


We use Virtual Reality 360 degree 4K Video camera to turn our videos  into a navigable panoramic views of the reef environment that allows you to view the underwater transect in 360 degrees while also getting close to objects as if you were there in real life. If you have 3D stereoscopic goggles you can use them with our VR videos for the ultimate immersive experience. 


There are multiple purposes of the virtual reef: 

  • It allows an unprecedented way to document the conditions of large sections of actual reefs, in great detail. Over time we will allow you to visit the same virtual reefs over time to see changes. 

  • Citizen scientists without access to actual coral reefs to can conduct virtual dives and engage in learning activities and virtual scientific data collection for educational purposes, in connection with our  curriculum. 

  • It can be used by volunteers and reef managers to plan scientific surveys and train volunteers for field surveys. Some virtual surveys can even collect new scientific data off the virtual reef and provide an opportunity for citizen scientist to contribute to scientific knowledge directly from the Virtual Reef. 


The initial virtual reef was created from thousands of underwater pictures, called transects, taken by Dylan Vecchione from 2007 to 2015. With the emergence of  VR video technology the current virtual reef was upgraded. The project is ongoing and is expanding to more sites and time series.  Come back to these pages as we will add more locations  as the data becomes available. 

While creating the original Virtual Reef at the Kahekili, Maui site,  ReefQuest  developed protocols to help anyone else interested in adding to the virtual reef do so.  Today we are supporting schools and volunteers around the world as they create new virtual reefs for local underwater ecosystems, which will be published  on this web site as they become available. If you are interested in leading the effort to build your own virtual reefs, please contact us


Each virtual reef is divided into transects, sections approximately 30 m long (approx. 100 ft). You can select different transects using the maps provided for each virtual reef under the "Virtual Reef" menu tab. You can also select a transect by name or location. Once you select a virtual reef transect, you’ll be presented with a window, similar to the demo transect below. Once your virtual transect opens, you will video play controls, and while the video is playing you can use your mouse to change your view in any direction. Our team is constantly adding embedded tags with cross links to our Field Notes knowledge base that form a curriculum for learning as well as enable surveys.    


What Can I do with the Virtual Reef? 

Conduct virtual surveys using the activities in Partner Schools curriculum 

Explore sections of real reefs around the world and observe changes over time 

Document a reef by adding to the virtual reef 

Participate in real scientific surveys and practice for actual in-the-water survey work 


How to use the Virtual Reef?

Click here for a brief tutorial on how to use the virtual reef.  

How do I access the Virtual Reef?


Click to access Virtual Reef Pages

Kahekili 2019

Kapalua 2019

Kohala 2019


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