Secrets of a marine biologist revealed

Students get ‘virtual’ look at life beneath the waves and the world of marine biologists.

Students driving underwater drone in swimming pool
Students from Hadlow Preparatory School, Masterton, driving the University's underwater remotely operated vehicle. Credit: Charles Kendall

What does it take to be a marine biologist? Students from schools in Wellington and the Wairarapa are getting the chance to find out by becoming ‘virtual’ marine biologists.

A new programme for Years 7 and 8 (11 and 12-year-olds) brings the mysteries of life beneath the oceans into the classroom by taking students on a virtual reality ‘dive’.

“With the use of virtual reality headsets and 360º videos, we’re able to give students the chance to experience New Zealand’s amazing underwater world and see exactly what marine biologists do in their daily work,” says Professor James Bell, who developed the programme with colleagues at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

The virtual dive is coupled with hands-on activities introducing students to the techniques marine biologists use to monitor the environment.

“Students learn how to survey sea floor communities and count different marine species. They also learn how to measure pāua to tell if they’re a legal size to harvest,” James says.

Students at some schools have also had the chance to drive the University’s underwater remotely operated vehicle in the safety of their local swimming pool. These vehicles are used by scientists to explore the deep ocean.

“Our hope is the programme will inspire kids to learn more about New Zealand’s marine environment, which supports a huge variety of life including many species that are found nowhere else on Earth.

“By giving students a glimpse of life under the waves, we hope they’ll get excited about marine conservation—and that they too will want to be marine scientists and contribute to solving the many problems the oceans face.”

Along with James, fisheries senior lecturer Dr Alice Rogers and software engineer senior lecturer Dr Craig Anslow played key roles in the programme’s development.

“We want to inspire the next generation of marine scientists and our programme shows the many careers that exist in this area, not only in biology but also robotics, engineering, and computer science,” Alice says.

Creating the virtual reality ‘dive’ relied on the skills of Craig and his students.

"It was great to be involved in developing the virtual ‘dive’, which explores some of our most pristine marine areas. It provided the opportunity for some talented engineering students to work on a software project that would have real-world impact,” Craig says.

For more information about the programme, contact James on